Enabling Low-Income Families to Buy Their Own Homes While Holding the Land in Trust for the Community: The Power of Balance

Abstract

The Burlington Community Land Trust has a radical vision: to secure housing as a basic right, not as a commodity to be bought and sold. The Trust enables low-income families to buy homes on land it owns, controls and keeps perpetually affordable. Founded over 20 years ago, the Trust uses the following approaches:

  • Pursue a Practical Approach: Low-income people receive subsidies from the Trust to buy their homes. The Trust also buys the land on which the home sits, and leases it to the homebuyers. When the homeowners sell, they receive 25% of the increased equity. The Trust gets 75% and uses this to keep the housing permanently affordable.
  • Build a Grassroots Base: The Trust cultivates a membership of 2,400 people. The organization conducts a membership drive and holds neighborhood meetings before taking on a new project in a community.
  • Institutionalize Democratic Leadership: All members have voting rights. The community-based board makes all substantive program decisions.
  • Balance Opposing Opinions: The organization maintains a diverse mix of grassroots and conservative interests on its board as well as among its membership and supporters. The Trust encourages debate. According to one member, disagreement actually serves as a bond: "We have to get it right."

In this leadership story, Co-Directors Mary Houghton and Brenda Torpy, along with their colleagues, describe how their organization builds community power and revitalizes neighborhoods.

"When you come from that small, progressive sort of grassroots place...you have to be willing to believe that you can have some power and that that's a good thing...I think that's an important part, when you start with all the heart that the Land Trust did and all the political beliefs and all of the vision, is then also being willing...to say, 'We'll take some power on behalf of the people we serve.'" 
Brenda Torpy, Co-Director, Burlington Community Land Trust

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