“Land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living and countless members are still unborn” — A Nigerian tribal saying
“Men did not make the earth..It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property…Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.”
The Community Land Trust
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The Community Land Trust concept was formed out of the underlying principle, which has been accepted by most people throughout most of history, that: Land and its Resources are Nature given to all of us. Thus, it might be said to be owned by all of us in common. The private ownership concept applied to land, is a very recent historical event. What is important about this concept is not that each person should have an equal amount of equally good land, but rather that each person should be entitled to a fair share of the return on land and its resources. Land and its resources is a major component in the creation of wealth. The major disparity between the rich and the poor has its roots in the private accumulation of land resources, which has given a few the bulk of the economic advantage from its use and impoverished many.
Marx saw the solution as State Ownership. But this has only resulted in the bureaucrats who run the state getting most of the benefit with incentive drained from the rest. A proposal by Henry George, clearly saw that it was not ownership or use rights that created the disparity but rather the maldistribution of income (unearned increment) resulting from ownership and use rights. He saw a mechanism already in place whereby local governments could collect a tax on land and its resources equal to the annual economic value of the resource and that such tax could either be used to support all public functions (no other tax would be necessary) or as some have proposed could be distributed to each member of society. Under such a system, who owned and used the land made little difference, so long as the economic value was justly distributed among all. Such a common heritage fund would produce an income credit of thousands of dollars per person each year.
Since governments have been extremely reluctant to institute a land value tax in proportion to the actual value of the land (except in some isolated and very successful instances) it was the idea of Ralph Borsodi (based on Ghandian Trusterty principles) to accomplish the same goal through private initiative, and the Community Land Trust was born.
LAND – The word, “Land” as used in Community Land Trust refers to Land and all of the natural resources under or on the land, before human modifications. Land does not refer to improvements and human made structures. The concept is to collect economic rent on the common heritage but to free human labor, human ingenuity & resourcefulness of all tax /rent burdens. In such a system each person would receive their fair share of the natural heritage, collected from users as rent fees, plus 100% of the value of their individual labor and energy.
COMMUNITY – The first reason for the use of the term “Community” is to differentiate between private trusts that are owned and controlled by the users of the land, and Community Trusts which allow great input from users but which cannot be changed or dissolved by the users alone. History has proven that private land trusts do not last because in the long run their purposes are subverted by the profit motive or other private interests of individual users. The Community Land Trust is controlled by members of the general community, which may include users but must not be limited to users. The second reason for the use of the word “Community” is to define a geographical area. In one sense a World Land Trust might seem to be the most fair, (and if you believed in giganticism and were willing to place trust in such an organization, it could fairly distribute the common heritage among all peoples of the world.) Most of us involved in Community Land Trusts believe in decentralized structures and favor smaller trusts limited to something not larger than a bio-region and in many cases to a County, State or other small geographical region, where local Community control is possible. However the Community is defined, the members of the trust should represent the interests of that Community while being equally fair to the users of trust land.
Hopefully, as the Community Land Trust movement develops, mechanisms will be created for equalizing values and rent distributions between local Community Land Trusts beyond the local community.
TRUST – The concept of Trust as used by the Community Land Trust, is rather different than that understood by lawyers in their legal definition of “trust.” The members of the Community Land Trust elect trustees. The trustees have a threefold obligation: first to protect the use rights of users as defined by a lease agreement, second to distribute the economic rent collected on the land in an equitable manner in the community, and third to protect the natural resource itself, which belongs to all the people, from ecological abuse and human devastation. These trust duties are spelled out in the by-laws of the Community Land Trust and in the lease agreements between the Trust and the users.
PROPERTY OR TRUSTERTY – One of the things which has led to our present condition of private ownership of land resources, which should be community owned, has been a confusion of terms. For example the legal definition of ‘real estate’ means the land and all of the resources under or attached to it, including man made improvements such as houses and factories. Likewise the term ‘property’ often confuses real property, which comes under the heading of ‘real estate’ and personal property.
FREEING THE LAND FROM PRIVATE OWNERSHIP – Someone must liberate the land from the yoke of private ownership and move it into a permanent state of Community Trusterty. It is certainly not fair to ask a person or a group of people to liberate a particular piece of land and then in addition to that to pay the Community for use rights. The approach which the School of Living has favored has been to exempt the donor and/or donor family or group from use/rent fees during their lifetime. In the case where the Trust already owns the land or buys the land, then a fair use/rent fee equal to the economic rent should be paid by all users. The purpose of the Community Land Trust was not and should not be to provide benefits to the few at the expense of the many. It was and should be to provide fair share benefits for all. In that context it is indeed a long range solution to many problems such as poverty amidst plenty, unfair and unequal distribution of unearned wealth and the disincentive created by taxing human effort.
Introduction to School of Living’s Community Land Trust Model: This webinar provides an overview of SOL’s unique Community Land Trust (CLT) model. The purpose of the Community Land Trust is to provide secure access to land for current generations and protect the land for future generations, while representing the interests of the larger community. SOL’s CLT model integrates Georgist economic principles, intentional community, ecological stewardship and education. This presentation will cover the history of the SOL CLT model, the Georgist principles behind collecting land rent, the nuts and bolts of SOL’s CLT model, why CLT may be the best land-holding option for intentional communities, and how the CLT model promotes sustainability and social justice. To schedule a webinar for your group please firstname.lastname@example.org. We will ask webinar participants for a heart donation to support our work.
“Community Land Trusts: Protecting the Land Commons” by David Harper
Excellent article from the Green Revolution, explains what a CLT is, includes a brief history, and examples of successful CLTs in the United States.
Community Land Trust Network (www.cltnetwork.org)
E. F. Schumacher Society (www.schumachersociety.org)
Equity Trust (www.equitytrus.org)
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (www.lincolninst.edu)
Inquiries about the SoL Community Land Trust program can be made to office at schoolofliving.org