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Framing our work by inclusive communities

Photo: Melora Hiller

Melora Hiller, Executive Director

Many of you know that the Network and Cornerstone Partnership are considering whether and how to join forces and expand our work. Some of this conversation stems from our recent strategic planning process, which required us to take a hard look at our strengths and weaknesses as an organization. We know that in order to achieve our policy goals and remove barriers to financing and funding for our members, we need a much louder voice and a larger sector of practitioners and allies. To be successful in the long term, we need to ensure our financial sustainability, and that includes taking an equally hard look at what our partners are doing, in order to make sure that we’re not duplicating services.

“Grow, Change or Die”

What you might not know is that both Cornerstone Partnership and the Network are eager to explore not only these organizational considerations, but how reframing our work might result in a much larger impact. As Mark Pinsky, CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, said in his keynote address at the last Network conference, “It’s time to grow, change, or die.”

A Vision of Inclusive Communities

Both the Network and Cornerstone Partnership want this opportunity for greater impact. After years of making incremental progress in promoting permanently affordable housing while watching the need grow exponentially, we think it’s time to re-examine our approach. The Network Board of Directors believes that the heart of our shared work is to create and preserve inclusive and equitable communities.

We’re well aware that “inclusive communities” may sound like just the most recent buzzword. However we truly feel that, whatever the word choice, the underlying vision of inclusive communities reflects the true purpose of our collective efforts: to make our communities fair, healthy and sustainable.

So let’s break down the jargon and answer: What does a vision of an inclusive community entail?

An inclusive community has:

  1. Community empowerment, control, and engagement;
  2. Participatory planning;
  3. Diverse housing options, including affordable housing that lasts (e.g. shelters, transitional housing, rental housing, coops, resident-owned communities, homeownership opportunities, market-rate housing);
  4. Community assets and services (e.g. access to community centers, healthy food, education, childcare, healthcare, jobs);
  5. Green space, natural lands, local food sources, and walkable neighborhoods (e.g. parks, community gardens, sidewalks); and
    Public transit.

You might notice this vision is nothing new to all of us who work in community land trusts and permanently affordable housing programs. It reflects the principles that the Network and our members have believed in for years. It’s also not particularly controversial. If you brought this vision to your residents, board members, national membership organizations, and national advocates, you’d likely find quick consensus on the importance of each piece. And CLT standards like permanently affordable homeownership and community control of land are clearly key components of inclusive and equitable communities.

Opening Up to New Partnerships

You also might notice that this vision is much bigger than one nonprofit’s work or one method of housing. To really create these inclusive communities, we need collaboration between community members, nonprofits and the local government. By framing our work by mission rather than method, we open ourselves up to finding new allies who share this goal as well as new ways of working to achieve it. CLTs will always be at the heart of our work. This conversation with Cornerstone Partnership is an opportunity for all of us to examine how we as CLTs can work in a bigger context to truly meet our communities’ need.

Exploring the Opportunity to Do More

Teams of board and staff from both the Network and Capital Impact Partners/Cornerstone Partnership are working hard to determine if we can create an organization that remains true to our roots while broadening our perspective and approach to make this vision a reality. We certainly don’t want to bite off more than we can chew or lose what makes the Network great. But we’re excited at the opportunity to determine how we can have a greater impact on building inclusive communities. The Network team remains committed to preserving the strength of our CLT members and continuing to provide the resources and services you have come to expect. We’re looking at doing more as a result of this potential integration, not less.

As always, we’re interested to hear your thoughts, as well as any concerns or questions you might have. You can reach out to me at or any of the integration task force members, listed below. We will continue to keep you updated and will likely have a proposal for members to consider later in the spring. Thank you for joining us on this journey.


Melora Hiller

Executive Director

National Community Land Trust Network

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