The proliferation of CLTs in the 1980s and 1990s did not happen by accident. The model’s spread across the land was the product an intentional strategy of developing a clear and consistent message about what a CLT is, how it is structured, who it serves, and what it does – and then disseminating that message via books, films, model documents, and the personal stories of individuals and organizations that were planting and cultivating CLTs in their own communities.
In the United States, the initiator and the principal implementer of this aggressive strategy for defining and promoting the community land trust was the Institute for Community Economics (ICE), especially during the dozen years from 1979 to 1990 when ICE was led by Chuck Matthei.
ICE produced the first books about the CLT. The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model of Land Tenure in America had been published in 1972, when ICE was still named the International Independence Institute. The book was built around Bob Swann’s and Shimon Gottschalk’s experience working with New Communities Inc., which had been around for only a couple of years as the book was being written. Indeed, the authors were quick to acknowledge that the “somewhat hypothetical model” they were proposing “exists only in the form of various prototypes.”
By the 1980s, a new crop of CLTs began appearing and new people were being drawn into this fledgling movement. They brought with them a new set of set of sensibilities. People now working with local CLTs or joining the staff and board of ICE were likely to have ties to the Catholic Worker or to other faith-based institutions like community churches, religious orders, or ministerial alliances. Many had worked as community organizers. A growing number of them came to a CLT or to ICE with prior experience working in urban neighborhoods or providing affordable housing for lower-income people.
By the 1980s, this new generation of CLT activists was in need of a better blueprint for creating a community land trust. Chuck Matthei, ICE’s executive director, pulled together a team of fifteen people to write and to illustrate a book that would update and, in some cases, revise the model that Swann and his colleagues had proposed a decade before.
The Community Land Trust Handbook was published by Rodale Press in 1982. It drew on the experience of newer CLTs like those in Cincinnati, Maine, and Tennessee, while paying homage to the on-going experiment at New Communities. While it built on the foundation of the earlier book, the CLT Handbook was pitched to a different audience. Thus there was more of a focus on urban problems, especially the preservation of affordable housing and the revitalization of residential neighborhoods. There was a new emphasis on building a CLT’s social and political base through grassroots organizing. There was a higher priority on serving disadvantaged individuals and communities, accompanied by a “moral responsibility” for helping lower-income leaseholders to maintain their homes and to succeed as first-time homeowners.
In 1985, looking for other ways to tell the CLT’s story, ICE produced a narrated slide show called Common Ground. It featured the first urban CLT in the United States, the Community Land Cooperative of Cincinnati. In 1998, ICE commissioned a video documentary entitled Homes and Hands: Community Land Trusts in Action, portraying CLTs in Durham, North Carolina; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Burlington, Vermont. The images and stories presented in these productions were designed to introduce the CLT to a wider audience. They also had an educational purpose, instructing the audience in what it meant to be a CLT and creating a common understanding of the model’s purposes, features, and applications.
Another medium used by ICE to tell the stories of local CLTs and to trace (and promote) the growth of this fledgling movement was Community Economics, a newsletter published and distributed by ICE from 1983 to 1996. As ICE observed in the newsletter’s maiden issue, things were changing so rapidly that it was hard for anyone to keep abreast of the latest developments; hence the need for Community Economics:
“Since finishing work on The Community Land Trust Handbook, we at ICE have been concerned with the need for some regular, ongoing publication to carry news of CLTs and related developments in the area of community economics. The Handbook brought the record on CLTs more or less up to date as of Autumn 1982, but now there are new developments to report – new groups, new interest, and new issues being confronted by established CLT’s as they expand their programs.”
Kirby White and Lisa Berger were the members of ICE’s staff who played the largest role in editing, laying out, and getting the newsletter printed and mailed. In an average year, two or three issues of Community Economics were mailed out at no cost to hundreds (and later thousands) of people across the United States, many of whom were at an early stage of planning, organizing, or operating a CLT.
Many issuesof Community Economics profiled a particular CLT – or interviewed a particular practitioner or policy maker who had positive things to say about CLT developments in his or her community. Every issue carried news of resources that local CLTs were discovering, projects they were developing, or programs they were designing. Community Economics was the first to proclaim this rag-tag collection of experiments a “movement” – and helped to persuade its readers this was true.
The CLT Legal Manual
ICE also marketed the CLT to a key group of professionals in the 1980s and 1990s, without whose expertise and support the model could not be established. ICE then provided these professionals with the tools they would need to be of assistance. The legal community was cultivated by ICE from the start.
In the mid-1980s, ICE periodically invited groups of lawyers to its offices in Greenfield, Massachusetts to wrestle with a myriad of legal issues that new CLTs were facing as they looked for the best way to structure their organizations, secure tax exemptions, and control the resale prices of the houses being built upon their land. At the end of the decade, employing the same approach it had used in writing The Community Land Trust Handbook, ICE pulled together a team to produce model documents and standard procedures for incorporating CLTs, leasing land, designing resale formulas, and a dozen other legal and technical details pertaining to the organization and operation of a CLT. These materials were collected in The Community Land Trust Legal Manual, published in 1991. A second edition, revising and updating the original, was published in 2002.
Although many attorneys lent their expertise to this project, David Abromowitz, a Boston attorney who had worked closely with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, served as the Manual’s principal legal advisor. The overall editor for both editions of the CLT Legal Manual was Kirby White.
1972: Publication of The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model of Land Tenure in America. The International Independence Institute moves to Cambridge, MA and changes its name to the Institute for Community Economics.
1979: Bob Swann and Susan Witt leave ICE, moving to western Massachusetts where they establish the CLT in the Southern Berkshires and, later, the E.F. Schumacher Society. Chuck Matthei becomes ICE’s new executive director.
1982: Publication of The Community Land Trust Handbook by Rodale Press. First issue of Community Economics is published and distributed by ICE.
1983: Chuck Matthei relocates ICE’s offices from Cambridge, MA to Greenfield, MA. Lisa Berger, John Davis, Sr. Louise Foisey, and Ian Keith join ICE’s staff, moving into living quarters in the same building that houses ICE’s offices. Robert Hurwitz joins ICE’s staff.
1984: Kirby and Nola White join ICE’s staff. Tom McLean joins ICE’s staff.
1985: Completion of Common Ground, a narrated slide show featuring the Community Land Cooperative of Cincinnati. Chuck Collins and Greg Ramm join ICE’s staff. Mike Brown and Patsy Murphy join ICE’s staff.
1990: Chuck Matthei leaves ICE and founds a new organization, EquityTrust. Greg Ramm becomes executive director of ICE. ICE relocates to a former school building in Springfield, MA.
1991: First edition of The Community Land Trust Legal Manual is published by ICE.
1996: The final issue of Community Economics is published and distributed by ICE.
1997: Sara Page becomes executive director of ICE.
1998: Homes and Hands: Community Land Trusts in Action, a documentary commissioned by ICE, is completed by two California filmmakers, Deborah Chasnoff and Helen Cohen. The video features CLTs in Durham, North Carolina; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Burlington, Vermont.
2002: Second edition of The Community Land Trust Legal Manual is published by ICE.
2004: Gus Newport becomes executive director of ICE.
2008: ICE’s loan fund is conveyed to the National Housing Trust, its intellectual property is conveyed to the Equity Trust; and its archives are conveyed to the E.F. Schumacher Society.
- International Independence Institute. The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America (Cambridge, MA: Center for Community Economic Development, 1972).
- Institute for Community Economics, The Community Land Trust Handbook (Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1982).
- National Housing Trust: Institute for Community Economics loan fund
- Common Ground: An Introduction to Community Land Trust. A narrated slide show produced for the Institute for Community Economics in 1985 by Tony Heriza of Community Media Productions. A digital edition was prepared in 2014 at the behest of John Emmeus Davis, who supervised its preparation.
- Homes & Hands: Community Land Trusts in Action. Video produced for the Institute for Community Economics in 1998 by Deborah Chasnoff and Helen Cohen, Women’s Educational Media, (Distributed by New Day Films).