Branching Out

Hybrid Vigor in Structuring and Applying CLTs

When two species with very different characteristics are combined, resulting in an increase in size, yield, and performance, that salubrious result is known as hybrid vigor.  Something similar has happened in the development of CLTs.  The model itself is a hybrid, created by selecting favorable characteristics of ownership, organization, and operation and then combining them to form a new breed of tenure.  But long after these characteristics were fully articulated in the “classic” CLT, the process of hybridization continued.  The CLT was combined with other types and tenures of housing, including multi-unit condominiums, limited equity cooperatives, nonprofit rentals, homeless shelters, and manufactured housing in resident-owned, mobile home parks.

The CLT was also applied to projects other than housing: leasing land under commercial buildings, community gardens, urban farms, and various community facilities. In Madison, Wisconsin, a cohousing project was developed side-by-side with community gardens and urban farms, all on land owned by the Madison Area CLT.

In Bolinas, California, a community gas station was developed on CLT land.  In Burlington, Vermont a bus station was converted into retail space, a Laundromat, and the Good News Garage, a facility for refurbishing used cars and making them available to low-income people needing transportation to find and hold jobs.

And CLTs were combined organizationally or programmatically with other nonprofit organizations: community development corporations; community development financial institutions, and CHT Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

Since form follows function, these new combinations, applications, and mergers reshaped the CLT, changing the way the model is organized, operated, and applied.  They also reinvigorated the CLT, helping it to grow beyond its “ecological niche” of single-family, owner-occupied housing.

This specialized niche had allowed new CLTs to become established and to thrive in places where there existed a crowded landscape of competing nonprofits.  But it had also limited the CLTs’ prospects for reaching out to constituencies beyond those primarily concerned with affordably priced homeownership.  And it limited the resiliency that CLTs would need to cope with a changing climate of public policy and market demand for owner-occupied housing. As CLTs entered the New Millennium and later confronted the Great Recession, the CLTs with the largest portfolios and the greatest potential for growth were those that had diversified their activities and holdings, branching out beyond homeownership and, in some cases, branching out beyond housing.

Further Reading

  • Miriam Axel-Lute, “CLTs Go Commercial.” Shelterforce no. 166, 2011: 32-35.
  • George C. Benello, Robert Swann, and Shann Turnbull (2nd edition), Building Sustainable Communities: Tools and Concepts for Self-reliant Economic Growth. New York: Bootstrap Press, 1997).
  • Pat Conaty and Martin Large (eds.), Commons Sense: Co-operative Placemaking and the Capturing of Land Value for 21st Century Garden Cities, (Manchester: Co-operatives UK,  2013).
  • Equity Trust, Preserving Farms for Farmers (Turners Falls, VT: Equity Trust Inc., 2010).
  • Charles C. Geisler, “In Land We Trust, Cornell Journal of Social Relations 15 (1), 1980: 98–115.
  • Shimon Gottschalk and Robert S. Swann, “Planning a Rural New Town in Southwest Georgia,” Arete 2(1), Journal of the Graduate School of Social Work, University of South Carolina, 1970.
  • David Graham, “Saving the Village Pub,” Shelterforce 34, #171, 2012: 24-25, 50.
  • Robert Hickey, The Role of Community Land Trusts in Fostering Equitable, Transit-oriented Development: Case studies from Atlanta, Denver, and the Twin Cities  (Working Paper WP13RH1.  Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2013).
  • Greg Rosenberg, “Troy Gardens: The Accidental Ecovillage,” The Troy Gardens Site PlanCommunity Land Trust Reader (John Emmeus Davis, ed., Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2010).
  • Greg Rosenberg and Jeffrey Yuen, Beyond Housing: Community Land Trusts and Urban Agriculture and Commercial Development (Working paper.  Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2013.)
  • Robert Swann, Land, Land Trusts, and Employment (Great Barrington, MA: E.F. Schumacher Society, 1972).
  • Robert Swann, Land Trusts as Part of a Threefold Economic Strategy for Regional Integration (Great Barrington, MA: E.F. Schumacher Society, 1972).
  • Thad Williamson, David Imbroscio, and Gar Alperovitz, “Community Land Trusts and Community Agriculture,” Making a Place for Community (New York: Routledge, 2002).
  • Jeffrey Yuen, Hybrid Vigor: An Analysis of Land Tenure Arrangements in Addressing Land Security for Urban Community Gardens (Unpublished thesis, Master of Science in Urban Planning, Columbia University, 2012).
  • Jeffrey Yuen and Greg Rosenberg, “Hanging Onto the Land,” Shelterforce 34 (Fall), #171, 2012: 30-33.

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