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A Guide To Transformative Land Strategies: Lessons from the Field

This moment of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter mobilizations demonstrates that ecosystems of economic democracy and community governance are critical for a just recovery and a just economy. The top-down responses to the pandemic are exacerbating the racialized gap in ownership of land and wealth, lack of democratic control over what happens on land inhabited by communities of color, and the power of extractive finance to determine development patterns. Many frontline communities seeking to secure democratic control of development have turned to models of collective ownership, such as community land trusts (CLTs) and permanent real estate cooperatives, as one part of a platform for land and housing justice. This guide synthesizes the strategies of transformative community land organizations (TCLOs): those that share the guiding principles of decommodification of land, racial justice, economic democracy, and transformative politics.

The CLT model has gained considerable traction over the last 20 years: the number of CLTs across North America is estimated to be about 3001 . With growing interest comes both a new wave of organizations with stronger grassroots connections and accountability, and the danger of organizations co-opting or losing the model’s values rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. Getting to scale is not an adequate end-goal if the commitment to the practice of democratic governance, and the organizing and political education to support it, are left by the wayside. CLTs should be a space for people to actually practice the governance and distribution of resources in the places where they live, work, and feel they belong. In this moment of economic fallout from the global pandemic and mobilizations of the Movement for Black Lives, CLTs and other CLOs have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to work towards a truly transformative approach to land governance. The organizational practices highlighted in this guide serve as examples 1. See this list and map compiled in 2020: “CLTs in the US and Canada” Center for Innovative CLTs. https://bit.ly/3hTFFtf of the important work that is especially needed to emerge from today’s crises and uprisings with tools for transforming systems of land ownership and development.

To understand what common strategies and practices TCLOs are developing and implementing to advance transformative community ownership and governance of land, the authors at MIT CoLab primarily focus on nine organizations with whom we had extensive conversations in preparation for this report: Oakland CLT; Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative; Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards; Parkdale Neighborhood Land Trust and Parkdale People’s Economy; East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative; Fruit Belt CLT; Chinatown CLT; Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH); and the Bronx CLT. The report is organized into four sections: 1) practices and tools for participatory planning, 2) land acquisition, 3) non-extractive finance, and 4) strategies that complement those in the other areas:

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