Community Land Trusts: Housing Solutions Rooted in Community Needs

By: Alysha Gardner, Senior Policy Analyst

“None of the affordable housing programs by themselves are a panacea – they all come with pros and cons… There is no model that works for all the different types of things we are trying to do.”

In the affordable housing policy toolbox, there are seemingly infinite federal and state programs that have evolved to combat the current housing affordability crisis. For every program that provides capital resources to develop new affordable housing, there is another to support tenant rental assistance, and still another to expand homeownership opportunities. Despite the elaborate network of assistance, the broader housing system still has large gaps of coverage where existing programs do not match the needs of the local community. Within these gaps, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and other shared equity models of housing have emerged to provide housing solutions addressing specific community realities and opportunities.

In October 2023, the Partnership hosted an in-person IForum to learn more about Community Land Trusts. National expert Jenee Gaynor from NeighborWorks America gave a keynote presentation discussing shared equity homeownership models, followed by a panel discussion with local Connecticut housing practitioners, including two CLT directors from New London and Hartford, the CEO of a Fairfield CDFI, and a banking executive of community partnerships.

For those unfamiliar with community land trusts, the typical model includes a private nonprofit organization who owns the land while, at the same time, a family owns the home or apartment that sits on the land. CLTs are one example of a broader shared equity movement, where the financial burdens and benefits of property ownership are shared between multiple entities, making housing more attainable for individuals who might not be able to afford a home otherwise. Rules for maintenance and use of the land is determined by a board composed of one-third residents, one-third members of the community, and one-third traditional nonprofit stakeholders; this unique structure allows the nonprofits to be responsive to community needs in ways that more formal government programs are sometimes not able to achieve.

Throughout the panel discussion with CT housing practitioners and funders, each participant emphasized a central theme of the importance of bringing community into housing. Mirna Martinez, Executive Director of the Southeastern CT CLT, described her journey from educator to housing practitioner as she worked to build stronger systems to assist her students and their families. She spoke of the often-overlooked benefits of CLT model where first-time homebuyers can rely on a “housing ecosystem”, made up of board members and other CLT residents, to ease the repair and maintenance burdens that accompany new homeownership (especially common with Connecticut’s aging housing stock).

Terry Floyd, Vice President and Senior Social Impact Specialist at Wells Fargo, discussed some of the banking challenges that come with coordinate mortgage lending from traditional private lenders, who sometimes are wary to take on the additional risk that accompanies a shared equity model. His recommendation? Work to develop partnerships and reach out to your local and regional banks over the larger national banks, as these entities and relationships may allow for greater mortgage lending flexibility when they are focused on a narrower housing market.

Patrick McKenna, Interim Executive Director of the North Hartford Housing Trust, spoke about their decision to adapt the land trust model to provide affordable rental units to tenants in the North Hartford neighborhood, an area where the vast majority of residents are renters. Their leadership chose to focus on the need for safe and quality housing, housing stability, and local housing ownership a solutions to the key issues facing their community. The Trust realized they could uniquely meet these needs by forming a rental-focused housing trust while still maintaining some features of a classic CLT, including a board structure offering two-thirds of the seats to residents and community members. McKenna also spoke of working together with the Hartford Land Bank, where the city-owned entity can use its legal mandate to make blighted property available for redevelopment and the local housing trust could acquire that property and use it for the good of the community.

Taken together, the conversations from this IForum paint an encouraging picture of CLT as another tool in the housing affordability toolkit. Lowering housing costs and providing homeownership opportunities to first-time or first-generation homebuyers is a well-known benefit of this shared equity model. However, it is clear that an equally appealing draw of the CLT model in Connecticut CLTs include their ability to tailor solutions to community needs and strengthen local residents through a collective neighborhood partnership organization. With the recent establishment of the Southeastern CT CLT and the Hartford Housing Trust within the past five years, we look forward to watching this model continue to expand to meet the housing needs of Connecticut residents in all types of communities.

Interested in learning more? You can watch the full recording of the Community Land Trusts: Innovation for Homeownership Access IForum on the Partnership’s YouTube channel. You can also browse our Community Land Trust Factsheet Series, including CLTs 101CLTs in Connecticut, and CLTs and Racial Equity.

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