Power to the People: Community Land Trusts and Ancostia

Written by Scott Kratz

When we were meeting with nearby residents, business owners and policy experts to form our Equitable Development Plan, one idea kept rising to the top of everyone’s priority list – form a Community Land Trust. A Community Land Trust or CLT, is a powerful and flexible tool to create affordable housing, allow residents to build equity as homeowners and preserve affordability for generations. Over the past year we’ve been working with colleagues at City First Homes to explore the creation of a CLT in neighborhoods around the future Bridge Park.

We recently invited Tony Pickett, a CLT expert from Denver to provide an overview of this widely used and newly poplar housing tool. Tony’s presentation was followed by a panel of local respondents including: Kymone Freeman, Co-founder We Act Radio; Robert Burns, Executive Director of City First Enterprises/Homes; Tina Fletcher, ANC8A Commissioner; and Aja Taylor, Advisory Director of Bread for the City, Brett Theodos from the Urban Institute moderated. Over 100 attendees packed inside the Anacostia Art Center’s Black Box theater to join the conversation. An ENORMOUS thank you to our participants for sharing their expertise and wisdom with us all.

See below for notes from the discussion.

Tony began the program by describing how that Community Land Trusts had its roots in the Civil Rights movement. Today there are over 260 Community Land Trusts in almost every state. There are even CLTs in Britain, Brussels and Australia.

Tony provided a basic overview of a CLT that owns the underlying property. Individuals own the physical buildings and pay for the structure but not the land. In a housing market like Washington D.C., half of the overall property value is the land and the other half is the structure. For instance a $400,000 house might be comprised of $200,000 in land value and $200,000 in the physical house. This division increases affordability as an owner would only pay for the house and not the land. A typical CLT has a resell formula built into the ground lease to share equity in the house built up overtime. And as the ground lease is usually 99 years and renewable, the land is kept as affordable in perpetuity.

Governance is a key part of a CLT. A board of directors in a classic CLT has three parts, each with an equal number of seats. One-third represents the interests of people who lease land from the CLT; one third represents interests of residents of the surrounding community who do not lease CLT land; and on third is made of public officials, local funders nonprofit providers of housing or social services and other individuals who can speak for the public interest. An added benefit of a CLT is that one can provide additional services to residents such as financial literacy classes, workforce training and home repair.

The discussion that followed Tony’s presentation was wide-ranging and thoughtful. Panelist Kymone Freeman shared that the standard definition of “affordable housing” was that residents pay less than 30% of their income on their housing needs, yet for many District residents housing makes up 40 or even, 50% of their total income. City First Homes’ Robert Burns (who is also board chair of the Grounded Solutions Network comprised of CLTS from across the country), described how cities as diverse as Houston, New York City, Boston and Detroit have successfully used this tool to create and maintain affordable housing. ANC Commissioner Tina Fletcher said that 75% of people east of the river are renters who are at greatest risk of being displaced. “It is hard to build community when people are looking for housing or being pushed out. ANCs in Georgetown are fixing sidewalks, while I am working on housing/employment issues while trying to build community.” Aja Taylor described Bread for the City’s community organizing work east of the river where residents have expressed interest in forming a CLT. She described the urgent need for financial investment in affordable housing.

As we wrapped up the program, our moderator Brett Theodos asked each panelist what attendees should take away from the session. Panelists encouraged the audience to stay engaged and organize. We could not agree more.

Lots of thanks to our partners at the Anacostia Arts Center for hosting the program. And special thanks to Aysha Cohen and Adam Maloon for helping to compile these notes and staff at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy for sharing their wonderful publication “The City-CLT Partnership.” Download a free copy of here.

Power to the People: Community Land Trusts and Anacostia from City First on Vimeo.