Community land trusts have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to acquire and manage land for preservation, conservation, and community use. While many people may be familiar with land trusts as tools for preservation and conservation, they can also be used for affordable housing.
The Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) in Washington State is an excellent example of a community land trust that provides affordable housing while also promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting natural resources on the island. By holding land in trust for affordable housing and preserving land for agriculture, small business development, and forestry, the LCLT has become a model for community land trusts across the country.
The LCLT develops affordable housing by creating a nonprofit housing cooperative and offering 99-year leases to The Co-op residents. The community land trust holds the land in trust, and the residents become stewards of the homes and land, working together to ensure its long-term conservation and protection. To make this arrangement successful, the LCLT has built a strong organization with a deep commitment to community engagement. By empowering residents to take an active role in stewarding their homes and land, the LCLT has created a sustainable model for affordable housing that benefits both the community and the environment.
The LCLT was established in 1989 to hold land in trust for affordable housing, as well as to preserve land for agriculture, small business development, and forestry. It currently has six housing cooperatives with 47 permanently affordable homes and six rental units, and leases 68 acres of farmland to local farmers, in addition to holding 20 acres of forest and nine acres of raw land set aside for additional housing. These projects provide housing for families who otherwise are not able to afford to live on the island.
In addition to providing affordable housing, the LCLT works to promote sustainable agriculture and protect natural resources on the island. The organization has helped to establish community gardens and supports local farmers by providing land for agricultural use. “We are big promoters of a local food system, not just for the regenerative aspects of soil, but for food security. Healthy communities need access to healthy food,” says Sandy Bishop, the LCLT's Executive Director. Lopez is dependent upon the mainland for food, with less than 10% grown locally.
To illustrate stewardship in action, Bishop shared a current project where a network of stewards is protecting the Island Marbled Butterfly by providing small patches of habitat throughout Whidbey, Camano, and the San Juan Islands.
One of the key strengths of the LCLT is its commitment to community engagement. The organization works closely with residents to identify projects that meet the needs of the community. This approach has helped to build strong support for the organization and its work on Lopez.
Washington State has more community land trusts than any other state, making it a case study for other states. “People have had a chance to observe what can happen when you have a community land trust, and that makes it more attractive to people who are starting them,” says Bishop. According to County Health Rankings, there are nearly 260 community land trusts in the U.S. as of 2021.
The success of the Lopez Community Land Trust is a testament to the power of community land trusts to create healthy and sustainable communities. By working to provide affordable housing and supporting land for forest and working farms, and promoting community engagement, the LCLT has become a model for community land trusts across the country.
At Thriving Communities, we believe that community land trusts have the potential to play a critical role in building thriving communities. By preserving open spaces, promoting sustainable agriculture, and providing affordable housing, land trusts can help to create healthy and vibrant communities for generations to come.
We look forward to continuing to learn from successful organizations like the Lopez Community Land Trust and working with them to build thriving communities across the country. Through our work, we aim to create a future where everyone has access to safe, affordable housing and communities that promote health and well-being.
Watch our film on the Lopez Community Land Trust.
Learn more about the organization.