We circle back here with Stuart for a deeper discussion about what makes this remarkable project such a robust example of regenerative design.
“The land trust model that Lopez CLT used to create affordable housing is about striking the balance, about giving up some return so that the capitalist system can continue to work and not collapse,” Stuart explains. “It allows people to buy a share in the cooperative for a reasonable price, and when they sell, while they do get a significant piece of equity, it is not like they had bought their house in a hot housing market and sold it 3 years later. The way everything is thought out, the way the flow of money is tied to the people who live there and the surrounding community and land is a very profound example of regenerative place-making.”
Entrepreneurialism is the primary engine of capitalism. Stuart believes the land trust model is the perfect tool for advancing regenerative capitalism because it applies a brake on the growth of financial capital, without inhibiting entrepreneurialism. “We want to understand that some things don’t work well in unconstrained markets," he explains. "The land trust model says, ‘Let’s ask the question, should we rethink how we own land or water rights or other ecological attributes, and when do markets around those things have limitations?’ The land trust takes the land appreciation out of the economic model. It gets at the heart of the complexities of slowing down returns to capital. There is so much capital, how do we provide the needed returns to it on a finite planet? One answer is that some things must be transitioned out from markets and be held in a commons model.”
Because of its remarkable flexibility the land trust framework can be tailored to incubate all sorts of entrepreneurial activities: it can hold agricultural land that can be leased at a reasonable price to farmers; it can support the restorative harvesting of timber; it can be used to create affordable housing as a springboard for an infinite variety of entrepreneurial risk-taking; and it can be used to lease land at reasonable rates for commercial purposes in dense urban settings.
The coupling of the land trust with the cooperative model has also produced incredibly regenerative outcomes for Lopez CLT, Stuart points out, as the cooperative enterprise provides an early opportunity for individuals to experience business ownership as they come together for a shared economic purpose. Furthermore, residents who might not otherwise have the credit history to secure individual mortgages have been able to own homes by pooling their credit within this shared, but limited for-profit framework, backed by the not-profit land trust.
The deeply green design of the last two CLT development projects [Common Ground and Tierra Verde] --clustering a few small homes using a modest amount of resources in developments whose stated mission is to use zero fossil fuels-- is the ecological component that completes the regenerative story of the Lopez CLT. As Stuart explains: “So you have the economic democracy component, the community building, and the incredible sensitivity to local ecosystems all coming together in Lopez CLT. There are projects that try to push social innovation around land trust and even some that do it via the cooperative model, but this incredibly deep green design approach is amazing.”
Securing funding for the Lopez CLT development projects has been incredibly time consuming, requiring a complex mix of grant funding, individual donations, and bank financing. Stuart acknowledges that commercial financing for regenerative projects like Lopez CLT will continue to be challenging for some time to come. “In terms of financial return expectations we are heading into a difficult social adjustment where people begin to realize the new normal is not seven percent plus, it is more like three percent, because that is what a balanced world can sustain,” he maintains. “People will be fighting for the next generation about this. But returns that are not carefully calibrated to communities and ecosystems may become degenerative; we know they are likely to eat into social or natural capital. We know that can’t be sustained, and that there must be a reset of return expectations.”
From Stuart's perspective, the Lopez CLT project is significant because it points the way to a transformative future where similar projects are considered not outliers but the norm. “This is the cultural transformation we will begin to have, where thinking about land trusts and cooperatives is in the front of our minds, not the back of them,” he says. “It is seeing Lopez CLT not as an exceptional project that requires lots of subsidies, but instead seeing that the thinking here is so sound and stable you can apply these ideas to a variety of businesses. We can begin to have that conscious design conversation about the community benefits, alternative ownership models, and what the non-profit needs to do to maintain its solvency and support this. The talk will be around rebalancing, about everyone needing to give up something in the process but everyone ultimately having a lot more to gain through reciprocity. And we can apply that thinking to any kind of sustainable enterprise. Those are the key design questions of our time.”