What Does “Community Control of Land” Mean?

Folks argued for community land trusts and a broad range of policies to improve democracy and control speculation. Others argued for even more ambitious and direct models.

Photo courtesy of Proud Ground, Portland, Oregon
The State College Community Land Trust in Pennsylvania is leading a pilot project—GreenBuild—to build a pair of homes with energy efficient technology. Photo courtesy of State College Community Land Trust
Photo courtesy of Chinese Progressive Association, Boston

When we put out a call for essays about the meaning of community control of land, we expected we might get a handful of responses. Instead we got dozens and dozens, coming from all different parts of the country, from residents and researchers, activists and advocates. We clearly touched a nerve.

While, not surprisingly, a large number of the responses came from people involved with community land trusts in one way or another, folks also argued that a broad range of policies to improve democracy and control speculation should count as increasing community control, and others argued for even more ambitious and direct models. The scale, level, and kinds of control that people envision vary. Many people also reminded us that community can mean many things and local control of land has frequently led to exclusion and segregation in this country. Community control by itself is not enough.

There were also some common themes—the desire to remove land from the speculative, profit-driven cycle and turn it to a greater good; the goal of permanent affordability; and the power of creating more community and healthier places to live through the process of collective decision making about land.

Below are some of the essays that give a taste of the kinds of important and exciting ideas that were raised.

The Power of Community to Segregate or Liberate by Craig Saddlemire

Community Rights and Urban Land by Oksana Mironova

Settling Homeless Families in Vacant Homes by James Hull

Community Ownership Redefines ‘Highest and Best Use’ by Kathleen Hosfeld

Community Land Cooperatives Should Oversee Neighborhood Economic Development by Brandy Brooks and Joel Rothschild

Controlling Land Collectively: The CLT Ground Lease Reimagined by Olivia Williams, James DeFilippis, Deborah Martin, Joseph Pierce, Richard Kruger, and Azadeh Hadizadeh Esfahani

Resident Democracy by Design in Maryland by Tina Horn

Community Control Gives Families Hope for the Future by Shannon Milliman

Where the Disenfranchised Can Voice Their Opinions by Adrian Alberto Madriz

Slow Building of Community on Lopez Island by Chom Greacen

Community Is a Moving Target by Josefina Aguilar and Sandra McNeil

Interrupting Inequality through Community Control of Land by Claire Cahen, Susan Saegert, and Jakob Schneider

Building Power for Community Control by Christi Clark

The Linchpin of a Just Housing System by Homes For All

Creating the Commons by Dominic Moulden and Amanda Huron

The Fight in San Francisco is Unfinished by Chris Carlsson

Collective Ownership Is a Community Control Tool by Lydia Lowe

Co-ops: Resistance to Living in the Land of the Lord by Sonia Andujar

Corbin Hill Food Project Land Transfer by Dennis Derryck


Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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