Community Land Trust – Voi, Kenya

Community Land Trust – a model from the USA 

A Community Land Trust (CLT) can be defined as “a not-for-profit community-controlled organization that owns, develops and manages local assets for the benefit of the local community. Its objective is to acquire land and property and hold it in trust for the benefit of a defined locality or community in perpetuity” (Diacon, Clarke and al., quoted in Cabannes, 2013). While statutory definitions of CLT differ depending on the country, the defining characteristic of a CLT is the fact that the property is divided into two parts: land on the one side, and improvements on the other side. The first belongs to the Trust, the second belong to the inhabitants[1](Davis, 2010).

CLTs were born in the USA, with the main purpose of keeping housing affordable, through the control of land prices, for the disadvantaged communities, especially African-American communities. The first experiments were carried out in the South of the country, parallelto anti-segregationist struggles. The first American CLT, “New Communities Inc.”, was established in 1969 in Georgia. The model was then disseminated elsewhere in the country, with the support of the workers’ Catholic movement, until it was regulated by a law in 1992.CLT draws its inspiration from customary tenures in Africa, American philosophy (Henry George) and experiments in the 1970s, and the Garden City movement. Today, there are CLT in USA (especially in Vermont) and Europe (Great Britain, France, Belgium), but also in Kenya, Puerto Rico and Bolivia through pilot projects and local initiatives. 

In CLT projects, the impact of land value appreciation is “locked” into the community through several arrangements. First, land is held in perpetuity by the CLT so that land is “taken out” of the market. Second, gains on resale are limited to a fraction of the increased value provided by the sale. Third, the lease of every parcel includes a preemption right that gives the CLT the priority to buy the property when an owner leaves the CLT. Due to these principles, prices are kept quite low for several generations of inhabitants (Davis, 2010). Midheme et Moulaert (2013)consider it a “type of modern commons”. 

The Tanzania-Bondeni CLT in Voi, Kenya

In Kenya, at the end of the 1990s, a CLT was put in place as a component of a slum upgrading and land regularization project in the informal neighborhood of Tanzania-Bondeni in Voi city, with help of the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ). Legal owners of the land agreed to donate their portion of squatted land as a contribution to the project, and the option to constitute a CLT has been chosen by the community. The use of this collective form of tenure aimed at providing land tenure security for slum dwellers, seeking to avoid land resale. Indeed, many slums upgrading projects lead to the resale of parcels by the inhabitants after the regularization process, so that the targeted communities, the most deprived, do not finally benefit from the project. 

The implementation of the CLT had been a challenge since the legal context in Kenya was not adequate to create a Trust. It took years to effectively put in place the CLT. 

Nevertheless, the most recent land laws are more favorable to this kind of land arrangement (especially the Community Land Act). Despite the institutional and legal obstacles, the Tanzania-Bondeni CLT has allowed access to urban land to poor households and prevented them from market-induced displacements (Bassett et Jacobs, 1997 ; Bassett, 2005, 2007 ; Midheme et Moulaert, 2013). 

The research aims at assessing how far the initiative has succeeded in achieving its original objectives, and to what extent it fosters urban inclusion.

Preliminary findings  


Claire Simonneau, UMR Géographie-cités, with: 

Emmanuel Midheme, Maseno University
Sharlet Mkabili, Maseno University
Severiano Odhiambo, Maseno University

On the Voi CLT

  • Quite a well-planned neighborhood, with clearly identified streets.
    • Water: diverse types of connections (private, shared)
    • Electricity present in the neighborhood. Main power lines installed in the 1990s.
    • Sanitation: sanitation plan has been prepared but not yet implemented.  
    • Plots for public utility: most of them are respected, some are not developed yet (for example: market, health centre and second nursery school). Nevertheless, there are some cases where these plots were developed for private purposes, if not sold to outsiders.
  • Mixed areas with consolidated houses, a few multi-storey buildings, but also mud houses (see pictures)
  • Some CLT rules have not been fully complied with:
    • Ban on renting: some multi-storey buildings are clearly for rent (see pictures)
    • Ban on land sales outside of the community: there have been lots of land “transfers” in the last years to people outside of the community
    • Regular elections of CLT representatives:  a general meeting should be organized every year, with an election of representatives every 2 years. Last elections held in 2002. Tensions are quite high on this issue. As a consequence, the settlement society office is not used anymore by the settlement society officials, but by the area chief instead. It is even known as the area chief’s office.
  • Recent events:
    • Protest against the current representatives and for a new election: a group of youth form Tanzania-Bondeni has been recently set up, with the aim of organizing new elections. In February 2016, the CLT office was covered with graffiti “no office till elections”. But due to a Ministry visit in the settlement for the inauguration of a nearby school, pressure was put to wash the walls. Recently, this group sent a letter to the county council and anti-corruption agency to inform them about this situation.
    • Land conflict about a portion of the new railway line: a new railway line is in service since last year. For its construction, it was necessary to transfer a piece of land to the railway company (safety zone of 30 m along the railways). See map.  A land conflict occurs between the CLT representatives and the Ministry of education that both claim for the compensation, since the area is located on the plot of a secondary school.
  • Both feelings of pride and distrust toward CLT institutions (see results of questionnaires)

Ph. : Claire Simonneau

Local territorial issues

  • Within Taita-Taveta County, urban development is likely to happen in Voi and land pressure to grow in the next years. Indeed Taita-Taveta County area is mainly (62%) national parks (Tsavo East and West). The remaining territory is occupied by ranches, sisal estates and hilltop forests. County headquaters is Mwatate, even though it is only the fourth largest city of the county. The largest city of the county is Voi (45,500 inh, with 17,000 are urban)
  • With the devolution process, county governments have now to elaborate housing policies. In Taita-Taveta County, this process is at its very beginning, and an experience such as the Voi CLT is of interest for this planning process.

Alternative land tenure options in Kenya

There are actually many provisions in Kenya that allow for alternative forms of land tenure that individual freehold land title. In rural areas, one can identify for example group ranches, community land. In urban areas, housing cooperatives, collective leases, sectional properties (condominiums), SACCOs (Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization), block titles, sectional titles, etc. already exist.

Other isolated principles of the CLT are present in different projects. For example, the ban on selling the land does exist in many slum regularization projects.

Last but not least, through the Community Land Act, any community (based on ethnicity, community of interest, etc.) can ask for community land title.

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