Exploring Community Land Trusts

The cost of housing in Halifax has skyrocketed, for both renters and home buyers. It’s hard on everyone, but especially those who are marginalized and/or living on a low-income. One long-term solution that has worked elsewhere is called a community land trust. Let’s explore this potential housing solution.

What is a community land trust?

A community land trust (often called a CLT) acquires and holds land to be used for the benefit of community. The assets on that land – houses, apartments, community gardens, buildings used for non-profits and social enterprises – are for community. The CLT removes those assets from the public marketplace. People can purchase the house or rent the apartment. They can participate in the community garden or work for the non-profit or social enterprises within the buildings. But because the CLT holds the land beneath them and enters long-term lease agreements, those assets remain affordable for the homeowner or tenant in perpetuity. Even when the homeowner or tenant changes, that home will remain affordable for the next person.

How are Community Land Trusts created?

There are different models of community land trusts. Typically, they’re governed by a non-profit operator, community members and like-minded community organizations. Together, they determine what the specific needs are for the neighbourhood or community they’re in, and they decide how best to use the land. The non-profit operator takes care of the day-to-day operations of the trust.

Community Land Trusts are growing in popularity across North America, but they’ve been active in many parts of the United States and the United Kingdom for decades. These long-term CLTs offer evidence of the positive effects of removing housing from the traditional market and making it available to those who are marginalized or live in poverty.

How do they work?

Firstly, the CLT has to acquire lands. They can be gifted from private landowners or donated to the trust by government, or lands can be purchased with donations, grants or other funding. In many jurisdictions, government will offer the right of first refusal of available lands to the CLT. This means the CLT has the option to purchase land before it’s available for public sale. This is important because it’s difficult for CLTs or non-profits to always be in competition with for-profit developers for the same land.

If there are buildings on the land, the community land trust can offer them for sale affordably (if it’s a home), repurpose them for affordable housing, or rent them. Commercial property can also be owned by a land trust, where a non-profit or social enterprise might operate. Because the land is meant for community, it can be used for other purposes too – like shared green space or a community garden.

Who buys or rents these units?

In general, people who need affordable housing buy or rent the units. The board members of the community land trust will decide whether the criteria used is purely financial or if there are other considerations. Some examples in other parts of Canada include accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities and rental units for seniors living on a low income.

In some communities, the community land trust has prioritized the needs of Black and/or Indigenous community members. Often, they otherwise would not have access to home ownership. These CLTs value equity, diversity and inclusion and can offer a lot more than just a home. Because of colonialism, many Black and Indigenous communities across Canada have lost access to traditional or culturally significant lands. They’ve also missed out on the opportunity to build generational wealth. A CLT that prioritizes Black or Indigenous residents can rebuild or strengthen communities. It also allows homeowners to pass their homes on to family members or sell their home and buy on the public market. This gives the next generation the opportunity to own a home as well.

Why is a community land trust ideal for Halifax?

Firstly, there is interest from a number of groups in Nova Scotia in creating a community land trust. Secondly, there is a huge need for affordable housing in Halifax. The waitlists are long, and affordable units continue to disappear as many older units are renovated. Removing land from the public market will mean that the forces that inflate the cost of housing – like bidding wars, competition and speculation – are removed from the equation.

In addition, the non-profit housing sector in Halifax is relatively small for the size of the problem. They can’t solve this issue alone. Currently, the provincial government is not interested in adding to social housing stock to the housing continuum. A community land trust could help fill that gap. There is crown and HRM-owned land that could be made available to a CLT. There are also private landowners who would potentially like to donate their land back to community.

What’s next?

United Way Halifax, along with several partners, are exploring the idea of a community land trust in Halifax. We are currently in the research phase of this project and will soon begin public consultation. Stay tuned for more information about how you can get involved!

Community gardens