Sunday, September 06, 2020


Many of us are familiar with land trusts - associations owning property removed from the market, hence unavailable for speculative purposes and protected in perpetuity. The most familar use is to defend forest and wet lands from development. They should also be used for affordable housing and the creation of small organic farms for food security. [By affordable housing, I mean 25-30% of income, not housing that is just below market value, for it still could be “inexpensive” yet still gobble up 50% of someone's already limited income]

How would this work? A trust would be formed with bylaws preventing any changes in the trust's status or in the agreements made with those who lease from the trust. The trust is either granted land from the government and/or buys up parcels of land with the goal of creating a number of large blocks of property. What happens on that property would depend upon its size and the type of terrain.

A large block unsuitable for crops could become the site of a village, and I mean a genuine village, not a suburban development. Priorities would be given to cooperative and cohousing developments. The center of the village would be given over to public buildings and shops. Streets would be narrow and everything would be within walking distance. A block too small for a village could be the site of a single building or several smaller buldings, once again priority given to coops and cohousing. No building could be more than four or five stories to keep a human scale. Land with potential agricultural possibilities would go to any group or individual willing to involve themselves in organic production.

All developments would lease from the trust – on 99 year leases – at about the present cost of a civic tax. If the land has been granted, the money generated from the leases would immediately go into a fund to purchase more land, thus ever expanding the trust. If the initial ground has been purchased, lease money will be used to pay the mortgage. Once the mortgage is payed, leases will go to expanding the trust. Where property is leased by an individual or company, there will be only one lease allowed to prevent possible monopolization. “Key money” or any other scam to capitalize on a lease will result in the immediate cancellation of the lease. The individual or cooperative lease holder owns any buildings they construct on the lease and may freely sell them, but the land they sit on can never be sold.

The trust would legitmate and enforce strict environmental regulations. The rule would be compact rather than sprawl – townhouses, rowhouses and apartments – other than on the agricultural leases where SFD's are allowed. All buildings would be placed next to the street – no wasteful set-backs. The the by-law minimum size requirement would be based on health standards alone, [tiny houses welcome] and a maximum dwelling size would be enforced to prevent the construction of ecologically and financially irrational “McMansions.”All buildings would be zero energy and have both solar panels and solar hot water installations. Rainwater would be collected and piped into a pond for the larger developments. All townhouses and row houses would have a modest garden space and allotments for apartment dwellers.

How would this keep the cost of housing down – aside from the obvious factor of not having to spend a quarter of a million on a building lot? Scale is one aspect – it is cheaper per unit to build a six-unit row house rather than six individual dwellings. Proper design – no waste space, triple garage or obese master bedroom foolishness – means you get the same bang for the buck in a smaller space and a smaller dwelling is less costly to build than a big one. A zero energy dwelling will usually cost more material-wise than the equivalent standard construction, but it will be much cheaper when you factor in the savings in energy costs. Then there is “sweat equity”. Those who want to reduce costs in this manner would be taught some basic construction skills by tradespeople and help work on their own dwellings. The equivalent of a union rate of pay for the given work would be deducted from the dwelling costs. Owner-built construction, especially in user-friendly and inexpensive materials, such as cob, straw bale and light clay would also be encouraged, unlike at present when seemingly no effort is spared to prevent people from building their own homes. The above policies could apply both to individual as well as collective (coop) projects.

What would result from such land trusts? Restoration of community, better mental and physical health, less need to work, less need for day care, less need for cars, more time to get a life.


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