In Land We Trust

The Community Land Trust Reader, edited by John Emmeus Davis. Lincoln Institute, 2010, 616 pp. $35 (paper).

To capture the history and essence of community land trusts is a complicated and demanding task taken on by this must-read compendium. But adages aside, The Community Land Trust Reader will help people recognize that the CLT approach to land stewardship is needed now more than ever.

First things first: never before has such a large volume — over 600 pages — captured the history and essence of community land trusts (CLTs). The book contains 37 authors, including editor John Emmeus Davis, who provide “the seminal texts that inspired and defined the CLT,” according to the Lincoln Institute. In other words, this book explains the past, present, and future of CLTs. Not only is this an essential volume for current and future practitioners in affordable housing, land conservation, and economic development, but also for those in the public and private sector who will hopefully recognize that the CLT approach to land stewardship is needed now more than ever.

With the rapid growth of CLTs there are many working in the community development field for whom this publication is especially timely and useful. As Davis says in the preface, many newcomers to the CLT field lack the historical background:

“Too few of them have heard of Henry George, Ebenezer Howard, Arthur Morgan, Ralph Borsodi, or Bob Swann, whose ideas of property and community sowed the seeds for the modern-day CLT. Too few of them appreciate the intellectual debt that is owed to the founders of similar movements in other countries, where the long-term leasing of community-owned land was pioneered: the Garden City movement in England, the Moshav movement in Israel, and the Gramdan movement in India. Fewer still are familiar with the lasting contributions of community organizers like Slater King, Charles Sherrod, Lucy Poulin, Marie Cirillo, and Chuck Matthei, who imbued the CLT with a passionate priority for serving people who had been excluded from the political and economic mainstream.” (Page 9)

The book is divided into a seven-part history lesson on the evolution of CLTs. Part I, “Precursors,” provides the theoretical background, beginning with Davis’s informative essay on the evolution of the CLT movement in the United States. Part II, “Prophets and Pioneers,” reviews the individuals directly involved with the establishment of the first CLTs. The remaining sections include “Definitions and Purposes,” “Affordable Housing,” “Beyond Housing,” “Beyond the United States,” and “Beyond the Horizon,” which provides a glimpse into the future and what it may hold for CLTs and affordable housing.


  1. We have in our neighborhood, a small one room church that began as a CLT. However, it has, over the years, turned into a private school in which the students of the school receive Deferred Tax Scholarships, corporate supported scholarships, etc. Most of the funding comes from School Choice of Florida. What began as a one room church, then turned into a daycare that grew into a 300 student school, eating away at our historical subdivision. The noise has caused many homeowners over the years since 1982, to move from their family homesteads. It turns out that the director and president for the corporation Lighthouse Christian Center of Volusia County Inc., is an employee of our Growth Management office of our government. Is this typical of what can happen with a CLT? Isnt’ running homeowners from their homes using noise from playgrounds, considered not good stewardship? Who oversees these CLTs and who can I contact at your agency to review this case?


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