Solving housing affordability through land trusts and collective ownership

Lynn Jones, a dedicated advocate for labour and human rights in Truro, Nova Scotia, sought to preserve the essence of “The Marsh,” a once-vibrant Black community that had gradually dispersed over the years.

Lynn Jones

With her family’s small plots of land in The Marsh, Jones began acquiring land from relatives as they moved away. However, she was determined not to sell to developers who would exploit the traditional African Nova Scotian community without leaving anything for its residents.

Jones, a recipient of the Order of Canada, and rooted in a family legacy of anti-racism work, discovered a solution in the form of a community land trust. This collective land ownership concept resonated with her, offering a means to retain community control and ensure long-term benefits for its inhabitants. Alongside fellow leaders in Truro, Jones established the Down the Marsh community land trust to explore transferring ownership of her land to the trust, securing it in perpetuity.

The community land trust model, a non-profit organization that owns land for the community’s benefit, was relatively unknown in Nova Scotia five years ago. As the challenge of affordable housing escalated, at least four new trusts emerged to address the growing need.

Curtis Whiley of Upper Hammonds Plains emphasized the urgency, expressing concern that rising housing costs would force the younger generation to move away, leading to the fragmentation of their community.

The Upper Hammonds Plains land trust, though not yet owning any property, is engaging in community discussions to determine land use, acquisition strategies, and membership eligibility. The overwhelming turnout at their initial meeting underscored the resonance of the community land trust concept.

Across Canada, more than 30 trusts have been established, addressing housing affordability in various cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Kensington Market in Toronto utilized a land trust for affordable housing, while Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley Society aims to provide housing, cultural centers, and childcare spaces through a community land trust.

The origins of the modern community land trust trace back to the American civil rights movement, particularly the efforts of New Communities Inc. in Lee County, Georgia. Founded by Shirley and Charles Sherrod, New Communities established a land trust in 1969, fostering community empowerment and resilience. Despite challenges and a later relocation, the Sherrods’ legacy spread, influencing land trusts addressing housing issues in diverse urban settings.

In Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Shekara Grant successfully closed on a piece of land, her great-grandparents’ homestead, to establish the Weymouth Falls Community Land Trust. Grant envisions using the trust to rejuvenate a rural community stripped of jobs and services.

Treno Morton is working to establish the North End Community Land Trust in Halifax, aiming to represent Uniacke Square and Mulgrave Park communities. Linked to Africville’s history, the trust aspires to acquire a $50 million parcel in Halifax’s Cogswell redevelopment area for mixed-income housing.

While the community land trusts acknowledge the challenges ahead, they remain committed to the movement’s success. Despite limited resources compared to professional developers, these grassroots organizations are fueled by a collective determination to learn and adapt as they work towards sustainable community development.