A community land trust (CLT) gives us a strong legal mechanism to practice jubilee economics today. It recognizes the sacredness of land, that land is too powerful to be completely commoditized or privatized. Land gives power, and if a community is to be empowered to make choices to live its values, a way of holding land in common is necessary. Otherwise a community is always vulnerable to developers or anyone else who has a different idea for their neighborhood, meaning anyone who has more money, power, and privilege than those currently living in the neighborhood.
According to the Institute of Community Land Trusts, CLTs are a way for communities to:
- Gain control over local land use and reduce absentee ownership
- Provide affordable housing for lower-income residents in the community
- Promote resident ownership and control of housing
- Keep housing affordable for future residents in perpetuity
- Capture the value of public investment for long-term community benefit
- Build a strong base for community action
The land is held in perpetuity by a non-profit for its intended purposes. As such, it is no longer part of the commodity of the region or neighborhood. The produce and/or buildings on the land can be passed on or sold, but according to a resale formula tied to some standard other than the open market, such as a percentage of the annual median income.
So, reminiscent of the biblical jubilee, the land is redistributed to the commonwealth of the community, held legally by a responsible group that sustains community economics.
The Institute for Community Economics in Springfield, MA, pioneered the CLT concept in the 1960s as a vehicle for affordable housing. CLTs are also used for conservation purposes and for keeping small farms from being bought up for development or corporate farms.
In San Diego, Jubilee Economics Ministries has been a partner for several years in establishing a CLT for affordable housing. Lee Van Ham is on the local board as an expression of JEM’s commitment to a sustainable land use practice that expresses the economic paradigm of jubilee’s abundance, enough for all. For more information on the San Diego CLT, visit sdclt.org. To locate a CLT in your area, see the National Community Land Trust Network at cltnetwork.org.