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How Local Governments Can Effectively Partner with Community Land Trusts

Two sets of hands nestled into one another holding an image of a house

This is the second of the two-part blog series on community land trusts (CLTs). The first blog covered the structure and benefits of affordable housing provided by CLTs while this one focuses on CLT/local government partnerships and strategies to actively support CLTs.

While this model has been around for decades, cities are increasingly seeing the benefits of CLTs operating in their communities. This has led many municipalities to seek out ways to support and partner with organizations, whether it be helping them get off the ground or sustaining long-standing community efforts.

Examples of CLT/Local Government Partnerships

Many CLT/local government partnerships exist in the state and across the nation. Such partnerships are more typically found in large urban areas, with one local example being Homestead Community Land Trust (HCLT). It has been operating in King County since 1992 and currently has a portfolio of over 250 units and multiple productions in progress. HCLT has working partnerships with many cities in King County, including Seattle which sold surplus land to HCLT at a reduced price.

Smaller local governments also have many tools to use to craft effective partnerships with CLTs. Chelan Valley Housing Trust (CVHT), the city of Chelan, and Chelan County have built a strong collaborative relationship and have created several instruments to support the continued development of affordable housing. These two local governments contribute $20,000 yearly to help fund CVHT’s operations and the city contributed $750,000 in ARPA funds to help pay for a sewer extension to a CVHT affordable housing development site. Additionally, a new development agreement related to a major development site in Chelan may result in a payment to the city, which will use it to fund affordable housing development. Financing from its local partners has allowed CVHT to develop a portfolio of five townhomes and two single-family homes, with a remarkable 42 new constructions scheduled to be finished within five years.

Municipalities can also function as collaborators with CLTs during the land acquisition process. For example, a municipality can alert the organization about available land that could be used for housing, offer discounted sales, or even donate land to the organization. Examples are listed below:

  • Olympic Housing Trust (OHT), which is located in Port Angeles, was formed in 2008 when Port Angeles sought the OHT's help in reviving or disposing of four vacant homes. OHT has since forged a partnership with the City of Port Townsend.
  • Methow Housing Trust (MHT), which is located in Winthrop, operates throughout the Methow Valley and has a record of partnering with private partners, such as large landowners, to build their portfolio. Recently, they announced a partnership with the Housing Authority of Okanogan County to create a new permanently affordable development containing 40 homes and 22 rental units.

Two out-of-state CLT/local government partnership examples include the following:

  • Proud Ground (Portland, OR) is one of the largest CLTs in the country with 364 homes in their portfolio. They partner with many municipalities in greater Portland for land sales, funding, and other services.
  • Sawmill Community Land Trust (Albuquerque, NM) is another example of a large partnership between a municipality and a CLT. This partnership was formed when the City of Albuquerque donated 27 acres of formerly industrial land for reclamation and affordable housing. Now, its portfolio consists of 93 permanently affordable homes.

How Can Agencies Help Develop and Sustain CLTs?

During the start-up phase, a CLT often needs assistance to purchase land at an affordable rate. Acquiring land as inexpensively as possible is a difficult task for CLTs and other nonprofit housing developers, and this task is especially critical because many federal funders require that CLTs have land before being eligible for grant awards.

When applicable, federal programs, such as the HUD Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (which is a significant source of funding for the Homestead Community Land Trust), can be used to support CLT activities, but locally available affordable housing funds are another excellent source of support. Property tax levies are one such mechanism allowed in Washington State, with local governments such as Bellingham and Jefferson County operating such levies.

If a property tax levy is not a viable option for your community, there are other means, such as negotiating development agreements where developers voluntarily agree to pay a fee towards an affordable housing fund. These funds could also be supplied via private donors or through corporate or individual grants programs focused on housing-related issues. For more options, visit MRSC’s Affordable Housing Funding webpage.

In addition to working with cities, CLT partnerships with local housing authorities are relatively common and beneficial to both parties. Like cities, housing authorities can supply developable land to CLTs. One such active partnership exists between Methow Housing Trust and the Housing Authority of Okanogan County

Washington State local governments can now sell or donate surplus or unused land to CLTs and other eligible nonprofits. This includes land that was acquired for highway expansion or areas once designated for a specific activity but no longer used, such as out-of-service airports, fire stations, or schools. An example of this can be found in Whatcom County, where the City of Bellingham is considering donating parcels of land for affordable housing preservation and development.

For CLTs striving to build new affordable housing units, the construction of needed infrastructure, including utility improvements, can present serious hurdles to overcome. This is especially true in rural areas and smaller cities where connecting to utilities (gas and electricity) and infrastructure (roads, and sewer/public water connections) can be time-consuming and expensive. Municipal governments that are eligible can apply for federal and state grants, such as the federal Community Development Block Grants, to help offset these expenses. Agencies can also offer fee reductions on utility connections for affordable housing projects, as done by the City of Kirkland.

CLTs are renowned for being a “one-and-done” model of affordable housing where initial subsidies are preserved over the lifetime of the units. Local governments should also consider using all of the other affordable housing techniques and tools at their disposal (such as permit streamlining and inclusionary zoning) to help ensure there are adequate opportunities to construct affordable housing units.

Conclusion and Resources

CLTs have a long record of operating as grassroots organizations, but strong and well-organized partnerships with local governments can kickstart CLT efforts, sustain ongoing operations, and promote new development. Local governments can tap into numerous financial, administrative, and real estate tools to help CLTs, and this partnership provides local governments with a mechanism of affordable housing creation — one that preserves initial subsidies for future generations of low and moderate-income community members and requires fewer sustaining funds than other models of affordable housing development.

For more information on how municipalities can support CLTs, see the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s The City-CLT Partnerships.

I would like to thank Rachel Goldie of Chelan Valley Housing Trust for her input and perspectives on CLT-municipal government partnerships as well as input on her organization.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Carson Bridges

About Carson Bridges

Carson Bridges served as a public policy intern at MRSC in 2023. Carson’s previous experience includes affordable housing development and comprehensive planning. Carson is an Urban Planning Graduate student at the University of Washington studying affordable housing and sustainability and has a BA in Economics from the University of South Florida.