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Climate resilience as Community-Controlled Housing

by Rafaela Mascaro

A brief intro: Private homeownership is still touted as a cornerstone of the “American dream” and a primary pathway to financial wealth and security in the United States, but discriminatory public policy, violent displacement, and institutionalized biases have structurally excluded Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color as well as low-income, disabled, queer and trans, and immigrant communities from homeownership for centuries. Secure, long-term housing has only become increasingly inaccessible for many folks who have been priced out or pushed out of their communities. Meanwhile, rising sea levels, extreme weather, and more frequent and intense climate-related catastrophes are expected to increase pressure on land and housing options, particularly for those who have been most structurally excluded.

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“We keep talking about a housing crisis- is it a crisis if it’s been in this state for the last hundred years? I don’t think it’s a crisis. I think this is housing under capitalism. It’s insecure, it’s unstable, it’s every person for themselves.” - writer and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (source) Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, writer and activist (source)

As affordable housing becomes (or remains) more elusive for many, alternative housing strategies designed to build collective wealth and resist displacement are emerging. Shared-ownership and democratically governed housing are not new concepts, but modern-day models are being tailored to address some of the key challenges of this moment in time. 

What it is: the alternative housing options currently taking root offer tremendous range in size, structure, and setup. This diversity is important; the more types of inclusive, community-controlled options that exist to meet differing desires and constraints, the better positioned we’ll be to keep all our neighbors safe, housed, and thriving through the crises ahead. What unites different types of community-controlled housing models is a commitment to exploring different strategies around housing finance, democratic governance, and co-stewardship of land and housing. Examples of community-controlled housing models include:

→ Community land trusts (CLTs) emerged from the Civil Rights movement as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers, Black farmers, and allies explored strategies for Black economic and residential in(ter)dependence in the rural South amidst staggering rates of Black land loss. They looked to ancestral ideas and global models of common ownership and collective land stewardship for inspiration. In 1969, they created the first community land trust (CLT), New Communities Inc., a safe haven for Black farmers on 5,735 acres in Lee County, Georgia. Since then, CLTs have become the most common model of community-controlled housing and have proliferated in urban, suburban, and rural areas around the world. As of 2021, there were more than 260 CLTs in the so-called United States serving over 12,000 residents. (A directory of CLTs and CLT coalitions across Turtle Island can be found here). 

Community land trusts are structured as community-based nonprofits and are run by staff, community members, and a board made up of CLT residents, community residents, and public representatives. Swaths of land are purchased by the trust via a 99-year ground lease, on behalf of the community, typically with external funding from other nonprofits, local businesses or banks, government funds, institutions or individuals. Income-qualified individuals and families (usually low- to moderate-income folks) can then buy homes on the land at a pre-determined, relatively affordable price. When they’re ready to sell their home, resale restrictions ensure that the homes on the land will remain affordable for the next residents. 

At their best, community land trusts allow folks to secure long-term, affordable housing, resist displacement, and build modest amounts of wealth outside of the speculative economy. A 2011 study conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy found that CLT residents were ten times less likely to face foreclosure and eight times less likely to fall behind on mortgage payments during the foreclosure crisis! Community land trusts also offer flexibility; housing is generally a core component, but the trust can also choose to conserve green space, generate renewable energy, farm, develop affordable commercial spaces, create civic spaces to foster community, and more. 

There are challenges that come with the community land trust model, though. Olivia R. Williams, a community-controlled housing champion who conducted her PhD research on CLTs, notes that many CLTs have drifted from their radical roots. After conducting hundreds of interviews in the CLT field, she reflected, “It became clear that the CLT model is increasingly being perceived and promoted by housing advocates and practitioners as an economically efficient affordable housing strategy, rather than an organizational approach that empowers poor, working-class, and marginalized people to take control of the land they occupy… Advocacy for affordable housing should always be coupled with grassroots movements for community control of land. Somewhere along the road, the CLT movement largely abandoned this vital piece of its legacy.” Community land trusts are dependent on external funding, making them vulnerable to the whims of funding trends and susceptible to becoming absorbed into the nonprofit industrial complex, and having an engaged membership base is not a given. 

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→ Housing cooperatives range in structure, size, and mission, though they share a few common tenets, including some form of democratic governance and collective housing ownership. Some are not at all justice-oriented— in fact, the first known cooperative-like housing community in the country was created as a luxury home club for high-income folks in Manhattan who didn’t want all of the responsibilities of individual home ownership (this brand of cooperative culture has persisted in New York City; most cooperatives in the city sell units at full market-rate and discriminatory practices are rampant). Other cooperatives have emerged directly from the grassroots struggle for justice. For instance, in the mid-1920s, Eastern European Jewish immigrant garment workers banded together to create the 740-apartment United Workers Cooperative Colony in the Bronx. The democratically-governed, nonprofit cooperative was developed to reject squalid living conditions, decommodify housing, cultivate social and political cohesion, and be a safe haven from antisemitism. 

There are several different types of cooperatives, including: 

  • Market-rate housing cooperatives: Shares are sold at full-market rate, without resale restrictions, so they are geared towards middle-income and high-income folks, and developers make a profit. Each owner pays a monthly fee and then controls a share in equity of the entire housing stock. Decisions around maintenance, membership criteria, amenities, disputes, and more are made democratically, either by residents directly or elected representatives (like a board), and sometimes both. 
  • Limited-equity housing cooperatives (LEHCs): LEHCs are similar to the above but are incorporated as democratically-governed non-profit entities and units are subsidized by grants and/or government subsidies to make co-op shares more affordable, so they are geared primarily towards low-income to moderate-income folks (oftentimes there’s a set income limitation). Like CLTs, there are resale restrictions to ensure that affordability is maintained, so owners are capped at making modest equity gains (but likely won’t take a serious loss, either!). LEHCs are a fantastic tool to resist displacement. Some projects have combined the LEHC and CLT models to both ensure long-term affordability and stability and maximize cooperative residential participation (i.e. the San Francisco Community Land Trust). 
  • Leasing or zero-equity housing cooperatives (ZECs): In a ZEC, members don’t build any equity. In practice, ZECs are similar to affordable rental housing but with democratic governance. In some ZECs, members pay a lower-than-normal rate and forgo accumulation of any equity. With leasing cooperatives, the cooperative leases the property from an outside investor (sometimes another nonprofit) and therefore isn’t in a position to build up any equity. ZECs are sometimes used as a stepping stone until the cooperative can purchase the property and become an LEHC. 
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→ Permanent real estate cooperatives (PRECs) are a new community-controlled housing model developed by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Like community land trusts, PRECs permanently take land off of the speculative market and into community stewardship, and like both CLTs and limited equity housing cooperatives, PRECs enforce rate of return restrictions upon resale in order to keep housing affordable for generations to come. However, unlike CLTs or LEHCs, PRECs are not structured as nonprofits, so there are more financing options, they can provide housing to folks all along the income spectrum, and there is no charitable component. PRECs are also explicitly liberatory and justice-oriented, with the goal of transforming systems of finance, land ownership, and community. They are designed to remove landlords, wealthy speculators, large developers, and big banks out of the equation. 

East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC), incorporated in 2017, is currently piloting this housing model in the so-called East Bay, California. The autonomous, multistakeholder cooperative offers four pathways to membership ownership; staff collective owners, resident-owners who live in properties purchased by the cooperative, community owners who oversee projects and ensure accountability, guidance, and transparency, and investor-owners who purchase one or more shares at $1,000 per share. While housing is a core focus of EBPREC, the cooperative is also working to revive and preserve cultural and commercial spaces in West Oakland’s historic Black Arts Community. (To get involved in EBPREC, consider making a donation, becoming an investor-owner, joining their mailing list, or attending one of their gatherings). 

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→ Resident Owned Communities (ROCs) apply the tenets of housing cooperatives to manufactured or mobile home neighborhoods. In commercially-owned mobile home neighborhoods, residents own their homes but not the land beneath the neighborhood. Therefore, they are vulnerable to steep lot rent increases, landlord-imposed rules that they don’t necessarily agree with, neighborhood disrepair, and even eviction if the lot is sold to a developer. In an ROC, however, homeowners own and manage the neighborhood land together as a nonprofit cooperative. In ROCs, monthly lot fees are typically much lower and more stable than in commercially-owned communities, and a portion of the fees go towards community repairs and improvements that residents agree upon. ROCs are a great way to resist displacement, create permanently affordable housing, and build community cohesion- particularly in the face of the climate crisis. (A directory of ROCs around the so-called United States can be found here). 

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→ Intentional communities (ICs) are not by definition a form of community-controlled housing, but many ICs are community-controlled. The Foundation for Intentional Community defines ICs as “a group of people who have chosen to live together or share resources on the basis of common values.” They typically prioritize social cohesion and values like interdependence, cooperation, and shared abundance. ICs can include eco-villages (which generally have a strong emphasis on sustainability), cohousing (which generally incorporate both private and shared spaces to support connection), communes (which generally are 100% income sharing), student co-ops (which generally house college or graduate school students and are expense sharing), religious communities, and more. ICs that fit our definition of community-controlled housing are exploring how to democratically govern, decommodify land and housing, and take care of housing and shared facilities, the land, and one another. (A directory of ICs around the world can be found here). 

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Moms 4 Housing

Squats refer to buildings that are occupied by people who do not own or pay rent on the property, and the squatting strategy is often utilized as a stepping stone towards more permanent community control- and perhaps planning and policy changes, too. For instance, in so-called West Oakland in 2019, a group of mothers experiencing housing insecurity (known as Moms 4 Housing) began occupying a home that was owned by a large home-flipping company and had been vacant for years. They bravely resisted eviction and eventually were able to purchase the home in partnership with the Oakland Community Land Trust. Their activism also sparked national conversation around housing injustice and led to the passage of laws meant to limit speculative homebuying

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Why it’s a climate resilience powerhouse:

Disrupting some of the root causes of racialized inequality

As of 2022, the homeownership rate for white households was 75 percent compared to 45 percent for Black households, 48 percent for Hispanic households, and 57 percent for non-Hispanic households of any other race. Horrifingly, the racial homeownership gap hasn’t really budged in the last few decades, either. In fact, the gap between white and Black homeownership rates was the same in 2020 as it was in 1970, just after the Fair Housing Act was passed. While housing justice requires a larger reckoning with the systems that perpetuate racial and economic injustices, community-controlled housing is one way to disrupt racialized inequality in homeownership. Many community-controlled housing projects make homeownership more accessible and affordable and/or allow residents to receive many of the same benefits of homeownership, like long-term housing security and stability, building modest amounts of wealth over time, and living without landlords. 

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“Broadly speaking, housing justice is an end to racial capitalism, it’s a complete unraveling of the systems that shape the social order of the day.” Tara Raghuveer, organizer (source)

Buffering community members from climate gentrification and other climate impacts

The climate crisis triggers gentrification and displacement in a few primary ways: (1) Neighborhoods and regions at lower risk of major climate impact are attracting predatory developers who are buying up properties, redeveloping them, and urging wealthier folks to relocate there; (2) In the wake of climate disasters, predatory developers are taking advantage of cheaper property values and building back for high-income residents, so folks displaced by disaster cannot afford to return; (3) Climate adaptation infrastructure, like storm drains, flood walls, and green spaces, oftentimes physically replaces low-income housing and/or leads to higher property values in the area; and (4) In areas with higher risk of major climate impacts, expensive weather-proofing measures can be infeasible for low-income households, forcing them to move elsewhere. Low-income and moderate-income renters, undocumented folks, mobile home owners who rent their lot space, and folks who do not have the bandwidth or resources to navigate the legal, insurance, or disaster assistance systems alone are all particularly vulnerable to displacement via climate gentrification. 

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Housing is a human right. There can be no fairness or justice in a society in which some live in homelessness, or in the shadow of that risk, while others cannot even imagine it. Jordan Flaherty, journalist and author (source)

But community-controlled housing is an effective tool to push back against the above trends. When communities take land and housing off of the speculative market, it’s no longer available for predatory developers to purchase. When folks (co-)own their home and/or have democratic decision making structures in place to collectively determine housing costs, they’re unlikely to experience unfair spikes in rent or cost of living. When residents can pool resources together, they’re increasingly able to invest in the retrofits and infrastructure needed to stay safe from extreme weather and other climate impacts. And when neighbors have already formed relationships and built the skills of organizing and governing together, they’re that much better prepared to mobilize and take care of one another when disaster strikes. 

For instance, after the Almeda Fire burned more than a thousand manufactured homes across 18 mobile home parks, many folks couldn’t afford to rebuild and didn’t have access to insurance or disaster assistance funds. Many folks whose manufactured homes were still standing had to decide whether or not to continue paying a lot fee in neighborhoods filled with the haunting and hazardous remnants of former neighbors’ homes and lives. Coalición Fortaleza was formed to rebuild in a just, empowering, and community-led way. In June of 2022, they were able to close on the purchase of Talent Mobile Estates, becoming the first resident owned community of so-called Southern Oregon, and ensuring long-term stability, autonomy, and resilience for 89+ families in the community. (To support Coalición Fortaleza’s efforts, consider making a donation and signing up for their mailing list to stay abreast of updates and calls to action.)  

Caño Martín Peña

The Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust in San Juan, Puerto Rico is another good example of how community-controlled housing can help to stabilize communities and prevent displacement amidst the climate crisis. The Caño Martín Peña CLT was formed in 2004 by eight informal settlements of more than 2,000 families who have lived around the Martín Peña Channel for upwards of 80 years. The channel regularly floods when there are heavy rains, and when that happens, many residents have to relocate, at least temporarily. Without the CLT, evacuating even temporarily would make folks vulnerable to land grabs by predatory developers. However, the CLT enshrines residents with the legal right to live in and return to their homes no matter the circumstances. The highly organized nature of the Caño Martín Peña CLT neighborhoods also equips residents with the ability to mobilize quickly and care for one another through disasters. After Hurricane María, for instance, neighbors worked together to clear streets, repair homes, distribute fresh water, access FEMA loans and apply for aid, and more. 

Organizing communities for justice and liberation

Residents of community-controlled land and housing projects are permanently in organizing mode. Day in and day out, they are building deep relationships with neighbors, navigating community conflict, strengthening democratic decision-making systems, engaging in collective care, honing their ability to share resources and cooperate, developing shared political analyses, and more. So, during moments of crisis or amidst opportunities for resistance, residents of community-controlled housing projects are uniquely positioned to organize one another to take effective action. 

Woodland CLT

For instance, in the Clearfork Valley of so-called northeastern Tennessee, Woodland Community Land Trust was founded over forty years ago in the wake of a devastating flood disaster, which had been exacerbated by the ecological impacts of strip mining practices. Residents strategized around ways that they could restore the land, resist corporate extraction, influence policy, and meet the basic needs of their community members, and decided that a community land trust could help them meet those goals. They not only acquired 450 acres of land to steward, protected a 400-acre forest, and developed community facilities, affordable housing, and medical clinics, but they also built people power. Together, they identified what they were struggling against and for, and so they were instrumental in organizing grassroots movements like Save Our Cumberland Mountains and were successful in passing state policy to tax, regulate, and challenge the coal mining industry. 

Every problem Appalachia has—mine safety, black lung, strip-mining, pollution, the decline of farming, floods, substandard housing, welfare, every single problem—can ultimately be traced back to the question of who owns the land. Mike Clark, former president of the Highlander Center (source)

Creating modern day models of collective care

Though single-family homes have become the default architectural template around which most domestic architecture is designed and planning policy is written in the so-called United States, they pose a variety of problems. The proliferation of single-family homes has led to the erosion of social cohesion and widespread loneliness, the reinforcing of gendered labor norms, the isolation of elders and disabled folks, and more. Many community-controlled housing projects are exploring how to alleviate these issues by sharing certain responsibilities, designing housing differently, creating communal spaces, etc. Community-controlled housing projects offer folks a pathway to live in a more interconnected way and to revive ancestral ways of living and caring for one another in a modern context. 

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Reducing environmental impact of housing

Community-controlled housing can help to answer some of the questions around how the residential sector in the United States can reduce its environmental impact, such as building smaller homes and denser neighborhoods, embracing communal facilities, taking good care of and retrofitting existing housing, and designing housing for the holistic good of the community rather than for profit maximization. 

South Baltimore CLT

Many community-controlled housing projects are also very intentionally weaving ecological sustainability into their design. For instance, the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, which is being built in a community that has become an epicenter for hazardous waste disposal and incineration, is prioritizing environmental justice every step of the way. The project is currently being thoughtfully developed by community members to include passive housing and community-owned zero waste systems. In so-called Alabama, an intentional ecovillage community of Indigenous Maskoke people, Ekvn-Yefolecv, is building a model for sustainable living and working to restore hundreds of acres of land. They’re reviving traditional ecological knowledge, utilizing natural building construction and renewable energy, uplifting regenerative agriculture practices, and reintroducing threatened animal species to the land. (To support these incredible land and housing projects, consider making a donation to Southern Baltimore Community Land Trust and/or Ekvn-Yefolecv.)  

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Decommodifying land and bringing it into community stewardship

Beyond reducing the environmental impact of housing, community-controlled housing projects can also help to shift the way that we collectively relate to, and therefore care for, the land. Jason Hickel explains in his book Less Is More that early capitalists were very intentional about changing how people regarded the living world around them; “in a world where everything was alive and pulsing with spirit and agency… this sort of possessive exploitation- in other words, property- was ethically unfathomable,” but in a world where land was fundamentally separate from them, and in which it was an object, it could be enclosed, possessed, commodified, extracted from, developed. 

Community-controlled land and housing projects have the power to take land off of the speculative market, and as scholars of the Law and Political Economy Project suggest, may have the power to “take the market off land.” When land is no longer a thing to make a profit off of, we are free to relate to land as a relative who we have a responsibility to care for. We also become free to move away from the delusion that private property, and particularly private single-family homeownership, is the singular pathway to intergenerational wealth creation and security, and we can instead move towards an understanding of how we can create real, collective, intergenerational wealth and security by stewarding land and community together. 

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“An economic system that treats land as a commodity to be bought and sold on the market fails to foster the respect for land necessary to encourage its proper use… This potential for speculative gain places tremendous pressure on the landowner to maximize the dollar value of the land through excessive development and erodes the landowner’s commitment to community and place.” Robert Swann, economist and land trust champion (Source)
Land is a web of life. It’s not a thing, but a very complex set of organisms that make life possible on Earth. It’s only when we've abstracted concepts like land, housing and development, and enshrined them in our legal and economic systems that it makes it possible to imagine people living without shelter on a massive scale, like hundreds of thousands of people do in this country. Chris Tittle, director of land and housing justice at Sustainable Economies Law Center (source)

The nuance / caveats:

Each community-controlled housing model and project has its own challenges and caveats, many of which have been named above. It bears repeating, however, that equitable, just, and liberatory outcomes are not a given with community-controlled housing projects. It’s also worth noting the contradiction and complexity of creating “liberatory” land-based projects on stolen Indigenous land. (Sogorea Te’ Land Trust has done a beautiful job furthering conversation around this topic- I highly recommend viewing the recording of “Queer Projects on Indigenous Land,” a conversation they hosted in which panelists explore questions like how do we create liberatory spaces on stolen Indigenous land?

Research + reflection prompts:

  • What are some of the largest structural barriers to safe and desirable housing in your community? Who is being left out or pushed out? 
  • Which people or organizations in your region are advocating for housing as a human right and dreaming up and actualizing more inclusive, community-controlled housing options for structurally excluded folks?
  • Take a moment to acknowledge and let go of your preconceived notions about what housing should look like. Then consider: What might housing look like if it were optimized to keep communities safe amid extreme weather events? To ensure ease of life and care for elders, disabled folks, and young people? To foster connection and minimize loneliness? To guarantee healthy, desirable homes for all? How do these housing scenarios differ from what you currently see in your neighborhood?

How to get engaged:


If you have access to time and a passion for housing: Consider teaming up with similarly passionate and committed community members to plant the seeds of a shared-ownership or democratically governed housing organization in your area. Begin by having as many conversations as possible with community members about what their housing needs and desires look like. Dream big but start small.

Join A Community

If you’re looking to move: Explore community-controlled housing projects that could be a fit for you! Depending on what you’re looking for, check out this directory of intentional communities, this directory of community land trusts, and/or this director of resident owned communities to get started. 

Lend your talents

If you have access to time and shareable skills: Lend your talents to emerging or existing community-controlled housing projects, which can oftentimes benefit from assistance with legal matters, construction and design, media and communications, community engagement, fundraising, real estate purchasing, and more.

Financial support

If you have access to financial resources: Consider making a financial commitment to a local, democratically governed housing community, whether by scheduling a recurring donation, paying membership dues to become a community owner, or purchasing ownership shares to become an investor owner.

General best practices

Whether advocating for a greater spectrum of housing options, supporting an existing housing community, or helping sprout a new project, make sure to center the folks who are most impacted by housing exclusion and inaccessibility every step of the way.

A smattering of resources for continued learning + action:

Short Reads


Long Reads

→ on community-controlled housing

→ for additional context


  • Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community: A 2016 short produced by Helen S. Cohen and Mark Lipman tracing the remarkable story of New Communities, Inc. (the first community land trust) and the struggle for racial justice and economic empowerment
  • At Home in Utopia: A 2009 documentary that tells the story of the United Workers Cooperative Colony, apartment complexes in the Bronx that were cooperatively owned and run by immigrant Jewish garment workers beginning in the mid-1920s
  • A Decent Home: A 2022 feature-length documentary that addresses the phenomenon of private equity firms and wealthy investors buying up manufactured home communities and displacing residents


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