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What is a Land Trust?



A land trust is a nonprofit organization that holds land for the benefit of a community. There are two common land trust models: conservation and community. As their names suggest, conservation land trusts hold land in order to protect and preserve it. Community land trusts own land in order to provide permanent affordable housing to low- and moderate-income individuals and families, primarily through homeownership.[i] 


Robert Swann, a community activist and civil rights advocate, established the modern community land trust model in 1966. He founded New Communities Farm, a 5,000-acre tract in Georgia where low-income black families could purchase farmland and produce crops for local and regional markets.[iii] The community land trust model was popularized in eastern US cities during the 1980s when rising housing costs, limited space for new construction, increasing numbers of abandoned buildings, and an aging housing stock contributed to a lack of affordable housing and community instability. [ii]


Over 200 communities across the United States are currently operating or establishing new community land trusts. In eastern cities, the community land trust movement is growing as a lack of affordable housing continues to be a major economic and social problem.[ii]





Commonwealth Land Trust differs from traditional community land trusts in that we provide affordable housing via our rental properties, which do not provide a pathway to homeownership, but nonetheless offer residents a permanent home and stability.


Although our approach differs, CLT shares the core goals embodied in the community land trust movement:


  • To preserve affordable permanent housing
  • To make quality housing available to low-income individuals and families
  • To empower residents through involvement and participation in the organization
  • To increase long-term community control of neighborhood resources
  • To counteract the unintended consequences of revitalization efforts, including rapidly escalating housing costs, rental conversions to properties for sale, and displacement of renters[i] 


A core tenant of the community land trust movement involves empowering residents through involvement in their housing and community.[iv]  At CLT, we work with residents to foster a sense of belonging in our buildings. Supportive housing residents attend quarterly Resident Advisory Board meetings and family housing residents take part in the Lower Roxbury Residents’ Association, which meets quarterly to discuss building and neighborhood issues. Both groups offer residents an opportunity to shape the housing and supportive services they receive.





[i] “Types of Land Trusts,” Land Trust Alliance, accessed May 13, 2013,

[ii] “What are Community Land Trusts?” National Community Land Trust Network, accessed May 13, 2013,

[iii] David Harper, “Community Land Trusts: Protecting the Land Commons,” Green Living: A school of Living Publication 64 (2007): 1-2.

[iv] Karen A. Gray and Mugdha Galande, “Keeping “Community” in Community Land Trust,” Social Work Research 35 (2011): 241.