Understanding Land Trusts


What is a land trust?


Land trusts are governing entities or organizations established to hold and administer land use by adhering to the charters of the governing organization. In understanding land trusts, a discussion of its main uses should clarify its objectives. The land trust holds the land for the beneficiary(s). The land trust organization determines how the land is to be used in a manner beneficial for a designated community or area. Two types of land trusts exist for the following main audiences: community and conservation groups.

Community land trusts are created to hold real estate in a common interest for the purpose of:

  • controlling land use

  • providing low-cost housing for lower-income populace

  • controlling over-speculation and hyper-spiking of home prices

  • securing affordable housing for future prospective home buyers

  • educating residents regarding investing in community development and health

Individuals can set up land trusts, which are usually private, non-profit entities, for specific beneficiaries such as low-income families. The land trust organization or community land trust (CLT) manages the specified real estate property for a common use. That CLT use can include providing a long-term (usually 99 years) lease for potential homeowners (the CLT owns the land, the home buyer owns the house), ensuring home resale to another lower-income family, and governing by a board of directors that represent the CLT community but do not reside in that community.

The CLT benefits an individual who wants to own real estate by managing legal rights associated with the specified property. Those legal rights, usually called Bundle of Rights, include air, timber, development, riparian (water), ground water, agricultural, mineral, and development uses. Furthermore, CLTs can provide useful management of interstate real estate investment trusts (REITs) in addition to managing a simple single-family residence.

CLTs do not come without controversy and are sometimes associated with Third Sector Housing. In the mid 1960’s, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) act was created to assist low-income families in the purchase of affordable housing. Low-income shelters, single-room occupancy buildings (SROs), and other housing assistance developments are under the purview of HUD. The existence of these affordable communities within neighborhoods has created a backlash in some neighborhoods that echo a sentiment, “not in my backyard (NIMBY).” But CLTs serve these communities and neighborhoods in providing wide-ranging education, political, and legal support. In fact, CLTs encourage discussion and comment among concerned parties on controversial projects.

Land trust forms are used to set up land trusts and are available on several Websites. These Websites represent several CLTs that operate in over 30 American states and growing.

Another type of land trust is the conservation land trust or conservation trust (CT). Conservation trust, charter objectives preserve and protect the delicate and natural balances of virgin lands, landmarks, and other important open spaces. Many CTs acquire land located next to commercial and residential developments and create “green zones” for the benefit of a specific community(s). Since the early 1890’s, CTs have protected open spaces by strategically acquiring virgin lands nationwide. A goal of the CT concept is to save and protect virgin land from urban over-development.

Also, a CT may acquire only water, oil, or mineral rights of a property. Conversely, a CT may sell or lease specific rights of a property.

Answered almost 11 years ago
Glenn Setzer
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