In 1984, Mayor Bernie Sanders and the City of Burlington established the Burlington Community Land Trust with $200K in seed money from the City of Burlington municipal budget. It was the first municipally-funded community nonprofit land trust in the country. Bernie’s office also provided political support and ongoing funding for the unique model – which is the benchmark for land trusts nationwide to this day.

In the early 1980s, the idea of a land trust was revolutionary. And this victory, like many during Bernie’s Mayorship, was hard won. Efforts to form the first BCLT saw real estate interests assembling in heated protest, showing up at Planning Commission hearings, and attempting to halt the program before it began. It was also a tumultuous time for the country:

“The Reagan Revolution forced The Sanders’ administration to develop innovative solutions for Burlington, Vermont’s housing problems within the context of the federal withdrawal of needed funding from affordable housing and community development programs. Equally challenging were double-digit mortgage rates that prevailed during the early 1980s, the threatened gentrification of Burlington’s traditional working-class neighborhoods, and the long-standing neglect of housing quality and affordability issues by previous mayors, who had favored downtown commercial development and bulldozed low-income neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal.”[1]

“Today, the organization Bernie made possible—now called the Champlain Housing Trust—is the largest and most influential of its type in the nation.”[2]

Brenda Torphy, founder and CEO of Champlain Land Trust, adds that this is the biggest land trust in the U.S. “if not the world. We have over 3,000 homes now, growing every year, and we have 6,000 members.”[3]

“Community land trusts are nonprofit organizations, with a board composed of representatives of the public, the local government, and the tenants, that obtain land and either develop it themselves or lease it to developers. The trust then removes its holdings from the private market, usually through 99-year ground leases and pre-emptive purchase requirements that limit how much the house can be sold for. Community land trust boosters argue that this not only ensures permanent affordability but allows the organization to intercede in the case of, say, a foreclosure. An oft-cited study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy showed that, as of 2010, homeowners within a land trust were ten times less likely to default on their homes than their private-market counterparts”[2]

“Creating the first municipally-funded community land trust in the nation is one of my proudest accomplishments as Mayor of Burlington,” said Sanders in 2012 after being honored by the National Community Land Trust Network for his work promoting the concept. He (also) championed language in 1992’s Housing and Community Development Act to ensure land trusts would be eligible for federal funds. “The land trust model works and must be part of the solution to the national housing crisis.”[2]