Meron Habte, Program Analyst, International and Philanthropic Affairs Division
On March 27, 2023, a British delegation composed of government officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; Local Trust, a place-based funder of community initiatives; the Young Foundation; the Paul Hamlyn Foundation; Onward, a think tank; Chatham Arches Big Local, an organization supporting local communities; Community Land Trust Network; Sheffield Hallam University; the Iswe Foundation; the Institute for Community Studies; and Heatherwick Studio, a global design practice, embarked on a weeklong learning expedition to Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
Local Trust initiated the visit to the United States to build and share research and practices that focus on sustainable community development and place-based renewal. The organization’s previous engagements with HUD had led it to the conclusion that “left behind” communities in the United Kingdom faced challenges similar to those in U.S. neighborhoods that are being revitalized or need revitalization.
During the weeklong visit, the team met with community foundations, investment firms, groups funding community revitalization efforts, and university partners and visited HUD-funded sites. These conversations revealed that both the United Kingdom and the United States face similar challenges for which similar solutions might apply. One topic that emerged from these discussions concerned the use and function of community land trusts (CLTs).
CLTs are nonprofit organizations that acquire and hold land for the benefit of the communities in which they operate. In recent years, they have become prime examples of community-led development and a means of increasing access to affordable housing. The concept, which originated in the United States in the 1960s, has since spread to the United Kingdom with some variations.
In the United Kingdom, CLTs typically are established as charitable organizations or companies governed by a board of directors that is elected by the organization’s members. The board has considerable discretion in setting the CLT’s strategic direction and in how it acquires and uses land. As a result, CLTs have become a popular strategy for addressing the lack of affordable housing and government funding. CLTs have been able to provide housing to low-income families and first-time homebuyers alike while also creating opportunities for community revitalization through economic development.
In the United States, CLTs emerged during the civil rights movement as a means of promoting community involvement. CLTs in America are considered nonprofit corporations and are governed by boards of directors that include community members, residents, and representatives of partner organizations. Unlike the boards of U.K. CLTs, the boards of U.S. CLTs have a duty to oversee the CLT’s operations and ensure that it adheres to the CLT’s mission. By protecting the homes they fund with restrictions, CLTs offer greater stability for low-income families. They also promote sustainable community development through their model of leasing collectively owned land to individuals and organizations, which fosters affordability, diversity, and resident participation.
The commonality of CLTs became evident during a visit to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DNSI) in Boston. DSNI, which serves the residents of the Dudley area of the Roxbury and North Dorchester neighborhoods, was formed to “provide a vehicle for residents to exercise neighborhood control and access to resources.” During its meeting with DNSI, the group learned about the organization’s history, which spans more than 35 years; how DNSI makes decisions about the area, and some of the outcomes of the organization’s hard work. The delegation also toured the community, meeting with neighbors, discussing the interaction between DNSI and local government, and visiting the community garden.
The delegation learned about the importance of community participation in the cities they visited and that CLTs are among the many mechanisms both countries are using to address challenges to sustainable community development and access to affordable housing.