Community Land Trusts

Jane Jacobs believed that when planning and developing a city, the “character and liveliness” of the city had to be preserved (Zukin 220).  However, the type of environment that Jacobs was acquainted with has changed and, therefore, her conclusions should be reimagined. Jacobs knew cities as “urban villages”.  However, they have grown into cultural competition zones with “Destination Cultures” (Zukin 244). The cities with destination culture are built with money in mind. For example, large projects such as New York City Waterfalls by Olafur Eliasson gained $69 million dollars in just one year (Zukin 234).  This competing culture is apparent in not just large scale projects, but in everyday life including with housing. People with a low-economic status have to deal with raising rents as competing culture increases the value and cost of a surrounding neighborhood. One way to counteract this is through community land trusts.

A community land trust is a nonprofit local organization which buys housing with the intent of keeping the price of housing affordable.  It does so by gathering private and public funds to permanently buy property. When a person/family buys a house and then sells it, the fund receives a portion of the profits from the increased value of the house (Community-Wealth).  These types of nonprofit organizations can be used to prevent gentrification and the resulting displacement (Angotti 114). Community land trusts are a way to give the community more power over their future by removing the tenant-landlord relationship to give lower-income people a better chance for higher economic gains and a steady place to live that won’t substantially go up in price.

This control can be viewed in Jane Jacobs’s understanding of a city.  Jacobs’s main focus was on the authenticity of a city. This authenticity applies control since one must know and be able to catalyze a best representation of a city’s authenticity.  Because of this, giving tenants more control of their economic status and living situation gives them a greater opportunity to understand and develop their city’s authenticity (Zukin 244).  This is especially important since competitive consumerism tends to let low-economic people’s power lag behind other’s power.

There have been several attempts to give tenants power through community land trusts.  For example, Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association (MHA) began its journey with 303 housing units, half of which are for low-income people.  Avalon Chrystie Place has a trust which has 708 housing units, a quarter of which will be perpetually for low-income people (Zukin 122-123). A more recent case of a community land trust will occur on the east side of the Anacostia river in Washington.  This trust was planned to occur since a bridge will be built, which will connect the poorer east side to the economically more stable west side (Hui). This trust will raise $5-$10 million and will be used to prevent displacement of lower-income people (Hui).  In doing so, the residence on the east side will have a better chance of keeping their rents down, in an otherwise bad situation in which gentrification would speed up, and cause the displacement of many. Community land trusts are a powerful tool, which give economic stability to low-income people.  Based off of a study of 96 community trust funds, the amount of housing units controlled by community trust funds in 1991 was less than 2,000, while the number in 2010 was 9,543. The average percent of residents with income less than half of the areas median is 82%, and there are 31% of non-whites in the units (Community-Wealth).  Local leaders’ main priority should be for the welfare of the people. To do this, the people need power over their own lives, and community trust funds are an increasingly popular and effective way to do this.

Angotti, Tom. New York for Sale Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. The MIT Press, 2011.

Zukin, Sharon. Naked City: the Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford University Press, 2011.

“Community Land Trusts (CLTs).”, 21 Jan. 2015,

Hui, Mary. “In Bid to Keep Homes Affordable, Anacostia Will Have Its First Community Land Trust.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Sept. 2017,


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