Keeping neighbourhoods affordable through community land trusts
For the past 30 years, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have been providing one solution to this question. CLTs are local organizations that acquire land, either by purchase or through a donation, and retain the land for the community’s benefit. Rather than being owned by the government, the land is owned by the CLT’s members, who are residents of the area.
The land is permanently held for affordable housing and other community purposes, and leased either directly to low- and moderate-income households or to organizations that provide housing for such households. CLTs are generally financed through private donations or grants, making it possible to ensure that the housing on their land remains affordable.
The CLT model originated in the U.S., with the creation of the Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) in 1984. The BCLT was built through funding from the City of Burlington, private land donations, and a line of credit from the City’s employee pension fund. The BCLT – which is now called the Champlain Housing Trust – operates by buying land, renovating any existing houses on the land, and selling the houses to low-income families at an affordable rate. Once the home is sold, a long-term lease for the land is signed with the homebuyer. An agreement ensures that the house must be re-sold at an affordable level.
In addition to facilitating homeownership, CLTs can also develop rental housing on its land. Today, the Champlain Housing Trust manages over 500 affordable houses, in addition to providing 1,800 affordable rental units.
While there are over 250 CLTs in the U.S., the model is less common in Canada. Researchers have attributed this discrepancy to a number of factors that are more prevalent in the U.S., including the existence of a national organization that provides support, specific tax and legal benefits that apply to CLTs, and a tradition of private philanthropy.
However, a number of CLTs do exist across Canada. In B.C, the Co-op Housing Federation established a Community Land Trust in 1993. Over 350 affordable housing units are now provided through the co-operatives and non-profit housing organizations that lease land from the Trust.
Meanwhile, in Ontario, the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust has been operating for over two decades. As island residents must lease the land that their housing is on from the community, the Trust ensures that island housing does not become unaffordable through inflated property values.
Recently, CLTs have been developed in both Hamilton and Toronto. Both the Hamilton Community Land Trust and the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust were created out of a concern that economic changes and gentrification may mean that area residents can no longer afford to live in their neighbourhoods. In addition to securing land for affordable housing, the Trusts have prioritized parks and gardens, as well as space for social enterprises and non-profits.