Ownership is a habit of mind: how community land trusts expose key consensual fictions of urban property

Joseph Pierce*, James DeFilippis, Olivia R. Williams, Deborah G. Martin, Richard Kruger, Azadeh Hadizadeh Esfahani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Community land trusts (“CLTs”) have garnered attention as a novel, non-state organizational mechanism for enabling permanently affordable homeownership. In canonical form, they separate a home from the land upon which it sits, holding the land in trust and selling the home for its value without the land. Additionally, CLTs use ground lease restrictions to constrain the resale process and enforce long-term reproduction of affordability. Herein, we argue that given the “actually existing” character of CLT practices, the legal vocabulary CLTs use is not most directly nor most accurately descriptive. The nature of the present intervention is emphatically not to say that CLTs have acted in bad faith; rather, we identify a set of fictions about land and rights encoded into the law regarding real property. Our intervention highlights how the nature of these fictions theoretically constrains the power of canonical community land trusts to transform society and forces critical reflection on specific financial strategies CLTs may attempt.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1199-1216
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Geography
Issue number8
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Community land trusts
  • hegemony
  • land
  • ownership
  • property


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