How Neighborhoods Are Using Community Land Trusts to Slow Gentrification  

Mark Crain, left, executive Director at Dream of Detroit talks community organizing with housing and land developments into a multi-purpose CLT. 


This story is part one of two series covering the different community land trusts developing in Detroit as alternatives to traditional home and land ownership.

As many Detroiters find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to affordable housing and the looming threats of outside spectators spurring gentrification, some neighborhoods have decided to pursue a collective model of community land trust.

A community land trust (CLT) is a community-owned nonprofit that acquires, holds, and sometimes manages land, leasing it to others for residential, commercial, or agricultural uses.

“Keep in mind that community land trusts emerged from the Southern Rural Civil Rights Movement,” sad Eric Williams, managing attorney for economic equity practice at Detroit Justice Center.

“Initially, it was a way for farmers to band together, but at its essence, it was a way for people to ameliorate some of the pernicious aspects of the traditional model of land ownership and the large ends of some of the greater financial, economic, and social systems that were in place in Detroit.”

Detroit Justice Center offers technical and legal support in for residents and community development organizations (CDO) as they explore a community-led alternative to development of individually owned buildings on a community-owned land in a trust.

As part of the consideration, DJC offers community groups a look at the CLT’s incentives:

  • Creating economically diverse communities
  • Preserve affordable housing
  • Prevent displacement, speculation, and unwanted land uses
  • Discourage predatory lending and reduce foreclosures
  • Create a source of income to support local needs
  • Promote local entrepreneurship

Williams said the growing gentrification of Detroit has left many residents being priced out of communities by virtue of speculators, increased property taxes, and displaced by developers that don’t consider the long-term residents already living in the neighborhood.



Community land trusts are one avenue residents can use to protect themselves by removing the land from capitalistic market so that a community can be stabilized and grown according to what is important based on a shared equity model.

Simply put, a residential-use CLT is when a trust owns a number of parcels and an individual or family owns the home or rental unit on the land.

There are different types of CLTs to consider and modeled locally and nationally, including: varied housing options, community gardens/urban farms, disability hostel, time bank, collaborative programs, commons areas, and employment and educational training opportunities.

One of DJC’s first clients considering CLT development is Dream of Detroit, a community development organization on the city’s Westside.

The Michigan Chronicle spoke to Mark Crain, Executive Director at Dream of Detroit about the organization’s initiative to combine community organizing with housing and land developments into a multi-purpose CLT.

Dream of Detroit has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and rehabilitation 13 homes as rental units and home for first time, low-income owners on along Davison Fwy and West of the Lodge. The homes are also used for pragmatic purposes as a space for returned citizens to inhabit and an artist residency program unit.

Crain said the shared equity model is a sustainable means for the Black community to empower themselves when the traditional home buyer model has been historically steeped in discriminatory disenfranchisement.

“As far as the premise of the American Dream where everyone has to own their own homes, it hasn’t always worked out for the Black community,” said Crain. “ It doesn’t work out at scale for Black people. Let’s say if a neighborhood is perceived as Black, the home values plateau, then they fall. We know this to be the case and we’re constantly chasing home values and neighborhoods and it only works until they reach a saturation of people who look like us. And then all of a sudden, the whole thing deflates.”

The shared equity model that CLTs provide allows for residents to use the option as a stepping-stone toward securing an affordable living space while they build wealth and supported by a community-centered system of meeting collectivist needs.

After 10 years building Dream of Detroit, the organization officially incorporated The Dream CLT this year as residential and commercial properties down the line.

“We are just not starting to transfer some of the parcels into what Dream of Dream purchased years ago, so it’ll be a separate entity. We’ll have a board that will be overlapping, some training for newly hired staff to support and manage the CLT and getting business folks involved. Congregation leaders and other folks to really set it up for long term sustainability.”

For residents interested in exploring a community land trust idea in their neighborhoods, Crain advises folks to immerse themselves in online resources available as a template to begin envisioning the possibilities.

“We hope to be the leading CDO (community development organization) in this neighborhood and down the line,” said Crain. “We hope to encourage other people to start thinking about the thousands of (residential) parcels available that can be locked into a system of permanent affordability.”

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