Gramdan In America

A pair of men who were to become two of the most influential leaders of the community land trust in the United States were introduced to one another by a mutual friend. 

Rural Field Trials

It was not until 1978 that two organizations appeared that were to incorporate both the leased-land structure of ownership and the community-based structure of organization that Swann and his colleagues had envisioned. 

New Communities Inc.

Often called the “first CLT,” New Communities Inc. (NCI) was an outgrowth of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, as it unfolded in Albany, Georgia during  the 1960s. 

Urban Experiments

The earliest attempts to transplant the new model of tenure pioneered in the rural regions of Georgia, Tennessee, and Maine into an urban setting took place in Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio.  

In 1972, when Bob Swann, Shimon Gottschalk, Erick Hansch, and Ted Webster published The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America, they candidly described the CLT as “a somewhat hypothetical model which as of this writing exists only in the form of various prototypes.”

Photo from New CommunitiesThis remained a fair characterization of nearly all the organizations that appeared in the 1970s and in the early years of the 1980s calling themselves a “community land trust.” This first generation of CLTs drew upon theories and practices that had been tested and refined in numerous leased-land experiments, both in other countries and in the United States. After 1972, moreover, community activists had a general guide for cultivating a CLT. But experimentation continued, as practitioners searched for the right combination of organizational and operational traits that would yield a disease-resistant model that could survive under different conditions, in different climates.

Some did not survive. CLTs that depended on farming to pay their bills had to contend with the harsh realities and high risks of any agricultural enterprise, while sometimes operating in a hostile political environment as well. CLTs in urban areas had to contend with the high costs of acquiring land and rehabilitating buildings, while navigating their way through zoning, building, health, and fire codes that were a mystery to community activists who often knew little about developing and financing affordable housing.

Here and there, however, CLTs were created that were perfectly adapted to local conditions – or were simply lucky enough to be planted in places with leaders, resources, politics, and constituencies that were favorable to their growth. These CLTs not only survived. They also changed the model in significant ways, pointing it toward new features, applications, and sources of support. The Community Land Trust Handbook, published in 1982, helped to codify these innovations and to hasten their spread.

This chapter of Roots & Branches is a collection of historical materials about the generation of CLTs that came into existence between 1969 and 1985, a period stretching from incorporation of New Communities to the founding of the first urban CLTs, some of them created in opposition to municipal policies and some of them created with direct municipal support.