The story of land is older than the story of man. Land came first; no man created it. Every society, large or small, must devise ways in which its members will share this gift. This is allocation. Members of society must also determine under what conditions the land will be passed on to the next generation. This is continuity. And they must decide if, when, and how it may be traded with others. This is exchange.
-From “The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America”
In 1967 Schumacher Center founding President Robert Swann developed the first community land trust in this country as a way to secure land for African-American farmers in rural Georgia. Slater King, president of the Albany Movement in Georgia and civil rights activist, partnered with Swann in this initiative. The experience in Georgia was captured in the 1972 book The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model of Land Tenure in America, published by the International Independence Institute and authored by Swann with Shimon Gottschalk, Erick S. Hansch, and Edward Webster. The book started a revolution in our thinking about land ownership. Now over 200 community land trusts operate across North America and the number is growing.
A community land trust is based on the belief that “in our society, if not in much of the world, unsatisfactory institutional answers have been evolved to the questions of allocation, continuity, and exchange–a community land trust is only one idea among many which are needed to restructure our social and economic system in order to produce a world order, not without conflict but without war; not without sorrow but without hopelessness; not without inequality but without inequity.”
Thanks to the initiative of Edward Webster, one of the book’s original authors, we are pleased to announce that a reprint of the 1972 book is now available through the Schumacher Center.
The system of private ownership of land that led to high productivity and personal independence one hundred years ago has become a major source of economic and social inequity. Private ownership of land is increasingly translated into corporate ownership, and, despite the increase in private homeownership, ever more land is being held in relatively fewer hands. Middle income families, as they attempt to purchase their homes, are forced to pay inflated prices, and the poor, as always, are almost totally excluded.
With the upward movement of land holding into the hands of a few wealthy corporations and individuals the need for a new system of land distribution becomes clear. The community land trust model, outlined in this book, offers a form of land tenure giving ownership rights to the individual while holding the land in trust.
The community land trust is not primarily concerned with common ownership. Rather, its concern is for ownership for the common good, which may or may not be combined with common ownership. The community land trust is a legal entity, a quasi-legal body, chartered to hold land in stewardship for all mankind present and future while protecting the legitimate use rights of the residents.
Lands held in trust are not subject to speculative price increase, therefore can be offered to individuals more equitably. Land tenure is then the result of the productive capacity of the land to provide food, supply a site for home construction, or a place for reasonable development. People, when provided land, have the capacity to create value. “Property is created by man through his labor. [What Ralph Borsodi calls] Trusterty includes land, the atmosphere, rivers, lakes, seas, natural forests, and mineral resources of the earth. Since these do not come into existence as a result of human labor, they cannot be morally owned; they can only be held in trust.” Each person should have equal access to this trusterty so that he or she may create value by his or her labor.
Whereas residents will own their own homes and their improvements which they make on their individual plots, ownership of the land will rest with the trust…The effects of the land trust will be to decommoditize the land, and thus safeguard the newly independent farmer’s right to his property, regardless of the fluctuations of the harvest or the market. The perpetual trust will guarantee that land cannot be repossessed by creditors in times of hardship. It will eliminate the possibility of land speculation, and absentee landlordism will be permanently avoided.
As we see land prices rising, small farmers being dislocated, and the poor being left homeless the need for the community land trust model, as originally described by Bob Swann, Shimon Gottschalk, Erick Hansch and Edward Webster, becomes evermore important. Newly reprinted by DRA of Vermont, with the assistance of Edward Webster, The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America is a critical tool for understanding the history and roots of the community land trust model, including, as it does, theory, practice and legal aspects of “restor[ing] the land trust concept.”
The newly reprinted version is available from the Schumacher Center for twenty dollars. Pay with BerkShares, cash, check or credit card. It is also available to read in its entirety online as a PDF and Robert Swann’s Introduction is also available on our website.
For a full list of books and pamphlets offered by the Schumacher Center with descriptions, click here.
Our thanks to the members of the Schumacher Center whose support enables us to maintain this important resource base for building sustainable local economies.