How might the CLT model be an effective tool for communities organizing around the human right to housing? Advocates for rights-based housing reform seek to confront the subjugation of human needs to market forces by building a sustainable movement for an ideological shift away from commodification of needs and toward a collective fulfillment of rights. Right to housing advocates seek to establish one of our most intimate of essentials – our home – as terrain contested by rights-based claims for equity and human dignity, not dominated by economic interests. The CLT model is one existing legal tool at the immediate disposal of the housing rights movement that may have at least a dual utility: as a vehicle for self-help and as infrastructure for an organized base of collective power.
Potential Utility of the CLT Model
Self-Help. In the absence of effective public policy or political consensus, the CLT model provides a well-tested legal vehicle for a community-based voluntary initiative to meet land and housing needs with respect to both individual and community interests, while also establishing long-term community control over the development of all acquired land.
Organized Base. The CLT model could provide basic infrastructure for community organization. Through asserting collective control over the development of the CLT’s land, shared values can be nurtured and expressed in the CLT’s internal organizational structure and policies (expanding the human rights of leaseholders and the community). Furthermore, the CLT may be a building block of collective power able to promote broader transformation of housing and economic structures and policies beyond the boundaries of the land it actually holds.
Risks & Advantages of Using the CLT Model
Risks. Of course, as with any institution, there are risks of corruption, struggles for resources to create affordability, especially during economic hardship, and maintaining a high-level of community organization. In fact, a minority of existing CLTs do not hold land for purposes that meet human rights standards and can be exclusive, not promote transparency, accountability, or even an open democratic decision making process.
Advantages. The CLT model provides an avenue for prohibiting speculative exploitation and maintaining the long-term affordability of housing over generations, as well as an opportunity for the community to plan land use and control development to meet needs, utilize sweat-equity, pool subsidies to lower financial barriers for lower income families, and support greater stability and equity on a small-scale.
In the last several decades, public efforts to increase access to basic and decent housing have generally fallen into 3 categories: public housing developed and owned outright by government entities, rent subsidies for tenants in privately-owned buildings, and subsidized financing for the purchase of private housing and development of rental housing. All have serious limitations as long-term arrangements for ensuring housing rights for individuals and community, which the CLT model can be uniquely shaped to address. For example, public and private rental housing provides only limited security and both the occupants and surrounding community lack direct control of the use and development of the land. Publicly subsidized financing of private arrangements is also subject to privatization of not only operating costs but also private profits, and affordability may be quickly lost when the housing is re-sold in the market.