What is a Community Land Trust (CLT)?

Community Land Trusts – or CLTs – are democratic, non-profit organisations that own and develop land for the benefit of the community. They typically provide affordable homes, community gardens, civic buildings, pubs, shops, shared workspace, energy schemes and conservation landscapes. Key principles are;

Run by ordinary people.

They are community organisations run by ordinary people who want to make a difference to their local community, putting control of assets into the hands of local people. They can be set up by the community or a landowner, developer or council.

Protecting community assets forever.

They ensure that their homes are permanently and genuinely affordable. CLTs act as long-term stewards of land and the assets on it. They ensure that it is put to the benefit of the local community, not just for now but for every future occupier

A world-wide movement.

Started in the USA, CLTs are now a worldwide movement. In both urban and rural areas, CLTs are a key part of the future of land, affordable housing and community facilities.

Watch: Community Land Trusts – Building the homes we can afford

Why CLTs?

People set up and join CLTs for all sorts of different reasons.

  • Lack of affordable housing. It may be there is a lack of affordable homes for young people or families in the village or neighbourhood. Maybe local people are having to move out of the place they call home because of rising prices and the community wants to do something about it.
  • Turning around local areas. Or it might be that the area has suffered years of decline and disinvestment, leaving empty properties and blight, and the community want to bring homes back into use and turn their neighbourhood around.
  • Shaping their local area, long term. Or, maybe a landowner or developer wants to vest the public facilities and green space in their new development into a trust. The CLT can steward them for the long term, and continue to develop the place long after the developer has built their last home.

In all these cases, the community wants to make their area a better place to live and they want more control over how that happens.

Beyond Housing

Many CLTs to date have focussed on creating new affordable housing – but it’s not limited to housing. Communities across England and Wales have come together, especially during the pandemic, to set up and provide a whole range of community assets and facilities. From village shops and community pubs, to energy generation schemes or food growing initiatives.

CLTs have set up and run a wide range of community businesses and enterprises. Where local shops have been in danger, communities have stepped in to take on ownership of an important community shop or asset.

In many areas, the pub has historically been the focus of community space. Now CLTs are running community pubs. Community pubs as well as a place for a pint, are increasingly offering childcare, post offices, older people’s meeting space, meeting rooms, even health services.

CLTs can own and run community centres, community sports facilities and other communal spaces such as community cafes.

CLTs have also taken on commercial spaces important to their local areas, especially as the pandemic threatened to shutter them.

Lots of community groups are considering how they can make their communities more sustainable by generating their own renewable energy. This is a win-win – caring for the environment, reducing costs for residents and also creating the potential to generate income for the CLT.

When community members talk about the things they would like to see in their community, very often land for growing food or preserving nature emerges as important. Some CLTs have made land available near to the homes built for allotments, and some groups have larger ambitions for community owned farms and parks.

Legal forms

CLTs are not a legal form in themselves (like a company). However, CLTs are defined in law, which means there are certain things that a CLT must be and do:

  • A CLT must be set up to benefit a defined local community
    ‘Local community’ means the individuals who live or work, or want to live or work in a specified area.
  • A CLT must be not-for-profit
    This means that they can, and should, make a surplus as a community business, but that surplus must be used to benefit the community. 
  • Local people must be able to join the CLT
    Those living and working in the community must have the opportunity to join the CLT as members if they support the CLT’s aims. 
  • Those members control the CLT
    Members must have a controlling vote in Annual General Meetings and the Board, though other stakeholders can be included in the governance.

The history of Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

The community land trust movement is a young and rapidly growing movement in England and Wales, where there are now over 500 CLT groups. However, CLTs are not an altogether new and unfamiliar concept. There is a long history of community ownership and management of land and housing in this country. For example, the original Garden Cities had a community trust that owned and managed the assets on behalf of the community, and some still do.

The CLT model itself is an import from the United States where CLTs are widely recognised as a common method of delivering permanently affordable housing. There are over 240 CLTs in the United States and the largest CLT, Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, Vermont, owns over 3,000 homes and over 130,000 square feet of commercial and community facilities.

The CLT model emerged in the USA during the civil rights movement, where a number of influential figures in the movement, including Bob Swann and Slater King (cousin of Martin Luther King Jr) wanted to create long-term opportunities for economic and residential independence for African Americans in the rural south. A CLT, where land is held by the community in trust, could do just that.

To inform the CLT model, they borrowed from older ideas of common ownership and the stewardship of land for wider community benefit and looked East, taking inspiration from the Gramdan movement in India as well as the leased-land agricultural cooperatives in Israel.

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