Regathering Land in Gulf Coast Neighborhoods

The role of land in the economic system has challenged philosophers, economists, and social activists through the years.  E. F. Schumacher was one of many who wrote about “the land question.”  As a response to this question, in 1967 Robert Swann and colleagues formed the first community land trust in Albany, Georgia, as a way to secure land for African-American farmers excluded from land ownership.

A community land trust is a tool for separating land, our common earth-given heritage, from buildings and other improvements created by human labor.  A community land trust acquires land, develops a land use plan for each site reflecting ecological limitations and social priorities, and then leases the land through an inheritable and renewable 99-year agreement.  The lease can facilitate multiple uses such as affordable housing, community buildings, agriculture, business development, and open space preservation. Leaseholders own their homes, barns, fences, stores, and manufacturing facilities, but not the land itself. Resale of improvements is limited to no more than current replacement costs of buildings adjusted for deterioration, insuring that the land itself is never again commoditized.  The exclusion of escalating land prices from the cost of buildings keeps homes affordable to new generations.

In an article for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, Gus Newport describes the application of a community land trust for creating an urban village in the Dudley Street neighborhood of Boston.  Gus has also served as mayor of Berkeley and most recently as executive director of the Institute for Community Economics.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Gus Newport knew that a community land trust would be a needed tool for regathering neighborhood lands and making sure that original residents had a say in shaping the future of redevelopment.  Susan Witt’s January 2006 interview with Gus about this work can be found on our website.

For more information about community land trusts, you can go to the website of the Schumacher Center where you will find background material and legal documents used by the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires.  You will also find information on the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s April 2006 Community Land Trust Academy in Washington state and the July conference, “Building and Sustaining Communities” in Colorado, organized by the National Community Land Trust Network together with the Lincoln Institute.