Community Land Trust

Community Development Agency

 To translate this page scroll up and click on the link that says "Select Language."

 Para leer esta página en español desplácese hacia arriba y haga clic en el enlace que dice "Select Language" (seleccionar idioma) y elija "Spanish" (español).

Icon depicting the land as part of a community land trust remaining affordable in perpetuity.

What is a Community Land Trust?

A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a model of housing ownership that creates long-term affordable housing by removing the land from the speculative market. A non-profit typically owns the land and restricts affordability by placing it into a trust designed to maintain perpetual affordability, generally for 99 years.

While the non-profit owns the land, individuals own their homes and are able to build equity through homeownership. Most, if not all, CLTs are designed to promote homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income households. When one household sells their home, the home is then preserved as affordable housing for a future low or moderate-income household. Additionally, it is typical for a land trusts’ board to be composed of community residents, allowing for direct, grassroots participation and community control.

The first CLT came out of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s through New Communities, Inc. This CLT was created to help African American farmers seek financial security and independence in a time of economic instability by “holding land in perpetual trust for the permanent use of rural communities” (The Community Land Trust Reader, 2010).

Since then, the CLT model has gained interest and momentum throughout the country, and has served as a mechanism to support affordable housing. Today, there are an estimated 277 CLTs across the United States (Democracy Collaborative). 

The Draft 2023-2031 Marin County Housing Element identifies CLTs as a program to support affordable housing.

Typical CLT Homeownership Model

Diagram of Community Land Trust (CLT) model, showing how the nonprofit owns the land and holds a lease agreement with individuals who own the buildings.

The graphic above illustrates the CLT model, at a high-level, which includes: 1. Buildings owned by individuals, 2. Ground lease between nonprofit and owner, including a resale formula to keep home affordable for any subsequent buyer, and 3. Nonprofit owns and manages the land to remain affordable in perpetuity.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. What is a Community Land Trust?

    Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of directors that is comprised of CLT residents, community residents and public representatives. CLTs are designed to provide long-term housing affordability and shared equity homeownership opportunities for families and communities. Individual or organized tenants own the buildings and other improvements on the land, but do not own the land itself. A trust holds the title to the property for the benefit of the homeowners and the community.

  • 2. Why is the land separated from the building?

    A community land trust is a structure that allows land to be held “in trust” for community needs, outside of the influence of market pressures. A classic CLT is an independent community-controlled entity that owns land and takes care of, or stewards, that land, making sure it is being used in ways that support the community it is accountable to.

    One of the most unusual things about a CLT is that it can separate the ownership of land from the ownership of the buildings on that land. This separation of land and building allows homeowners to have control and security as owners, while the community is assured that when the ownership of the building changes hands, it stays affordable and continues to serve the community.

    To determine if you live in an unincorporated region, use the County’s jurisdiction look-up tool.

  • 3. How does a Community Land Trust work?

    A typical community land trust for affordable housing works like this:

    • The land to be held in trust is either purchased or donated.
    • A family or individual purchases a house that sits on the land owned by the community land trust.
    • The purchase price is more affordable because the homeowner is only buying the house, not the land.
    • The homeowners lease the land from the community land trust in a long-term (often 99-year), renewable lease.
    • The homeowners agree to sell the home at a restricted price to keep it affordable in perpetuity, but they may be able to realize appreciation from improvements they make while they live in the house.
  • 4. How does a CLT keep housing affordable?

    Community Land Trusts are a model for stabilizing neighborhoods while at the same time allowing low- and middle-income people the chance to build household wealth.

    Community land trusts are a form of permanently affordable housing based on shared equity. The trust retains ownership of the land and maintains it for the benefit of present and future homeowners and the community as a whole. The homeowner leases the land and owns the building and pays for improvements on the land.

    The land lease sets out terms for any future sale of the property, letting the homeowner build equity through appreciation in value, while ensuring the home remains affordable for future limited-income buyers.

  • 5. How do CLT homeowners earn equity?

    CLT homeowners are able to purchase a home at a below-market price in part because they are purchasing the building and not the land (land can account for 20 to 50 percent of a house’s price, depending on location). The homeowner agrees to a 99-year renewable, inheritable lease on the land, so the amount of time they can hold their property is just as secure as a typical homeowner’s. In exchange, they agree to restrictions on how much they can resell the property for, according to a formula that will let them build some equity but will also keep the home affordable for others to purchase the home in the future at the same income level. This sort of shared-equity model may not appeal to people who can afford open-market housing. But for those otherwise priced out of the housing market, it is an opportunity to build equity and wealth, and establish credit and financial stability.

  • 6. Do you have to buy a home to be part of a CLT?

    While CLTs are best known for permanently affordable owner-occupied housing, some CLTs include rental housing to their portfolios. As the demand for well-maintained affordable rental housing continues to escalate, more CLTs are diversifying their holdings to include rental housing. These trusts serve renters by providing long-term leases with limits on rent prices.

  • 7. Who controls a Community Land Trust?

    A typical community land trust is a nonprofit run by a board, staff, and community members. The community land trust balances the interest of its residents, the broader community, and the public interest to promote wealth building, retention of public resources, and solutions for community needs.

    The residents, who become members of the trust, elect board members to govern the organization and guide its development and investments to meet community needs and priorities.

  • 8. What are the benefits of a Community Land Trust?
    • Community land trusts keep housing affordable in the long term, allowing lower-income households to continue to have access to neighborhoods that are increasing in price.
    • Community land trusts recycle a single public investment in affordability. The resale restrictions keep it affordable in perpetuity.
    • Most community land trusts support their residents, and homeowners and help keep residents in good standing.
    • CLTs generally have much lower rates of delinquency and foreclosure than homeowners in the regular market. The terms of the ground lease allow CLTs to intervene if a homeowner is struggling with their mortgage.
    • Community land trusts insulate land from speculation and provide a mechanism for ensuring a community voice in the use of land.

Additional Resources

Local CLT Organizations: