The community land trust movement had very humble beginnings, drawing inspiration from various movements, models, ideas, and individuals throughout history. Perhaps one of the most instrumental of these inspirations came out of the Civil Rights movement. In the 1950’s, activists and community organizers from all over the country descended on the southern United States, to join local leaders in opposition to the injustices being perpetrated on African-Americans in the region. One of these leaders, Slater King (first cousin of Martin Luther King), was instrumental in the formation of the nation’s first community land trust.
King, a leader in the Albany Movement, a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, GA, was convinced that beyond just legal and political equality, economic equality was crucial in achieving independence for African-Americans. Alongside CLT pioneers like Bob Swann, Charles Sherrod, and Fay Bennet, King helped form New Communities, Inc., a land trust and farming collective. Often called the “first CLT,” New Communities Inc. was an outgrowth of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, as it unfolded in Albany, Georgia during the 1960s. Their hope in establishing this new form of land tenure, was to secure greater economic and political independence for African American’s, and believed homeownership would allow for greater freedom and independence.
The dream of homeownership exploded in the post-depression 1930’s, when the Roosevelt administration began subsidizing the mortgage industry, creating the Homeowners Loan Corporation and later, the Federal Housing Association. “Redlining” a discriminatory practice of withholding leases, insurance, lending and other financial and civil services based on geographical location, originated in this era, initially intended to be used as a tool to prevent foreclosures. In practice however, redlining was used largely to restrict homeownership opportunities for African-Americans and other people deemed undesirable. The disparate impact of these practices left many inner city neighborhoods underdeveloped, and their residents devoid of options for generations, a leading cause of wealth and income inequality.
The discriminatory and exclusionary housing and lending practices of the 1930’s was amplified in 1940’s and 50’s post WWII America. Soldiers returning from the war had access to new funding and lending streams through programs like the GI Bill, and homeownership rates among the middle class increased nationwide. These new opportunities didn’t extend to all Americans however, less than 2% of postwar federal housing funds went to non-white families. To make matters worse, the development of suburban America exploded in the late 40’s and 50’s, leading to urban flight and further entrenching inner city neighborhoods in redlined districts.
In the early 20th century, much of the nation’s affordable housing was administered by the federal government through the funding and construction of large-scale municipal public housing starting in the 1930’s. These massive public housing complexes, built in major cities across the country, were often the only option for those locked out of the American dream, and the opportunities afforded by homeownership. This led to further sequestration and segregation, particularly in communities of color, which were disproportionately affected by housing policies in the 20th century.
Seen as a landmark of the Civil Rights era, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in schools, and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This was the first in a series of legislation and amendments that sought to achieve equal rights for all. It wasn’t until four years later, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (commonly known as the Fair Housing Act) that any legislation sought to address the disparate, and often discriminatory real estate practices in this country. By the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the state of the nation’s underfunded public housings was rapidly deteriorating, often due to the mismanagement and general lack of resources for maintenance and upkeep. The equalizing effects of the Fair Housing Act were negligible, stacked up against decades of inequality and a widening wealth gap.
By the mid 70’s and 80’s, the federal government had all but abandoned public housing, and shifted its focus on subsidized housing assistance, diverting its energy and resources towards creating a framework for public funds to be leveraged by private entities, through a variety of vouchers, tax credits, and partnerships to create housing opportunities.
Around this same time, community land trusts began popping up left and right across the United States. Building on the models formed in the 60’s, the community land trust movement sought to increase homeownership opportunities, treating land as a community asset and removing property from the speculative market. Through a shared-equity subsidy retention model, community land trusts increase access to homeownership and wealth building opportunities to those historically underserved by the housing market, and serve as a tool to help narrow the wealth inequalities caused in part by discriminatory housing practices.
The National Community Land Trust Network (NCLTN) was formed in 2006 to provide support and leadership for the growing CLT movement. In 2016, NCLTN joined forces with Cornerstone Partnership to form Grounded Solutions Network. While our membership has expanded to serve a variation of models, one commonality remains – our members seek to reverse discriminatory housing practices across the nation and increase homeownership, housing choice and wealth building opportunities for all.