Urban Transformation

Community land trusts: a solution to the global housing crisis

CLTs can be used to give people in informal settlements like this one in Nairobi, Kenya land rights and settled tenures.

CLTs can be used to give people in informal settlements like this one in Nairobi, Kenya land rights and settled tenures. Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Carrick Reddin
Principal, Contexture Collaborative
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• The pandemic has reiterated the importance of adequate housing.

• The community land trust model widens access to housing, encourages community participation and protects public resources.

• Under the model, land is communally owned, while homes are individually owned.

All 193 member states of the United Nations recognize adequate housing as an inalienable human right, yet an estimated 1.6 billion people are still living in inadequate housing. Moreover, research from Prindex shows nearly 1 billion people consider it “likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their land or property in the next five years”. Research suggests this is due largely to market-based speculation and the lack of secure land tenure.

The COVID-19 crisis confirmed the paramount importance of housing to promoting healthy, prosperous lives. Now more than ever, we must accelerate the implementation of community-based land ownership and resource management. The notion of community-owned and managed land is not new; it has historic roots across the world, from indigenous American communities to precolonial Africa to the Mongol empire. In the context of climate change and growing inequality, practitioners must view the community land trust (CLT) model as a viable solution to securing the right to housing and protecting public resources.

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The recently published book On Common Ground traces the history of CLTs to the civil rights movement in the United States when, in 1969, a group of African-American activists in Georgia secured land for their community as a way to gain greater independence. This visionary group, the founders of New Communities Inc., determined that communal land ownership was a more secure form of tenure that, when combined with individual ownership of homes, could offer low-income people opportunities for financial security and cooperative management, while ensuring long-term housing affordability. This concept of community-owned land upon which individuals own their homes is at the heart of a CLT.

In a community land trust, land is owned by a private, not-for-profit corporation managed collectively by residents, community stakeholders and experts. Individual homes built on this land are owned by residents who generate equity during their stay and, when they choose to leave, sell their home at an affordable price to the next buyer. This price is determined by the CLT to maintain affordability, while giving the current resident a portion of the increase in the value of their home. This model effectively eliminates the risk of land speculation and eviction. Moreover, CLTs empower residents to guide the development of their community while acting as stewards of common spaces and resources.

CLTs typically combine publicly owned land with individually owned homes
CLTs typically combine publicly owned land with individually owned homes

Today, there are over 250 CLTs in the United States, 300 in the United Kingdom, and a growing number in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Below are several examples of how CLTs, and their local variations, are being used to create affordable housing in Belgium, secure land tenure in Kenya, and protect natural resources in Honduras.

The Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB) develops permanently affordable housing on collectively managed land in the capital city of Belgium. Incorporated in 2012 in the midst of an affordable housing crisis (housing prices in Brussels doubled from 2000 to 2010), CLTB worked with government representatives to create the legal and financial frameworks necessary for the creation of a CLT. Since 2014, CLTB has developed nearly 50 homes with more than 100 more currently under construction. Arthur Cady, Project Manager at CLTB, emphasizes the social and economic benefits of the CLT model: “CLTs help reinforce the social cohesion of cities and communities by including lower-income households who may be priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods, while giving them a voice in management of the city's real estate and not leave it in the hand of financial speculators.” Eager to spread the CLT model across Europe, CLTB is supporting the Sustainable Housing for Inclusive and Cohesive Cities (SHICC) project, which delivers financial and administrative support to create community land trusts across north-west Europe.


In Kenya, the CLT model has gained traction as an effective tool for securing land tenure and quality housing in informal settlements. The Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) is using community land titling to guarantee land tenure and give ownership rights to residents in Nairobi’s informal communities. Peris Mang’ira, the National Coordinator for KISIP, specifies: “The community land tenure regime is uniquely relevant to informal settlements in Kenya and worldwide, especially where densities do not permit individual ownership.” Mang’ira emphasizes the importance of communities working with civil society and government partners to adapt the CLT model to local policy and legal frameworks. In Nairobi, project leaders integrated community participation throughout the process from planning to implementation. Young people participated in all tenure regularization processes, composed the majority of hired labour for infrastructure construction, and represent a significant share of new residents. CLTs are being created in other informal settlements across the world from Brazil to Bangladesh.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

In Honduras, the CLT model is being used to protect environmental resources of cultural, social, and economic importance to low-income rural communities. Fundación Eco Verde Sostenible (FECOVESO) is a regional land trust that purchases, manages and permanently protects the water basins that supply 16 villages in the mountains around Cortes. This community-based ownership model ensures the lands are not acquired by absentee logging companies or commercial cattle farmers, industries that would pollute the water resources upon which these communities rely. The organization also acts as a community development organization, helping to develop water systems, improve local schools, and lobby for legal protections for these remote populations.


Conversations are taking place across the globe on how to "build back better” following the COVID-19 crisis. The notion of community-based land ownership must feature prominently in our discussions if we are to realize the promise of adequate housing and environmental conservation outlined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Peris Mang’ira reminds us of the positive impact of guaranteeing land rights to communities. “[Community-based land ownership] has multiplier effects of improved livelihoods (incomes, housing, investments, health, employment opportunities, and business) due to the stability that comes with security of tenure.” With coordinated efforts across public and private sectors and strong community participation, CLTs can be an effective tool to guarantee the right to adequate shelter, empower residents to shape the future of their communities, and protect natural resources.

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Urban TransformationEconomic Growth
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