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.
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