A land stewardship community group has formed to buy up property in Hamilton and turn it into affordable housing, among other uses.

The Hamilton Community Land Trust (HCLT) will publicly launch its plan Wednesday to own land “in the name of citizens” and lease it back to people and organizations that will benefit the community.

It’s a concept that will mean more affordable housing and better use of brownfield lands, said Allison Maxted, co-ordinator of HCLT.

“It allows the community to have greater decision-making powers over what developments happen in the neighbourhood.”

'It offers a kind of ladder out of poverty.' - Brenda Torpy, president of the National Community Land Trust Network.

Land trusts are popular in the U.S. but still rare in Canada, said Maxted, who studied land trusts as a graduate student.

The concept separates the land from the building on it, she said, which makes it more affordable for low-income homeowners.

Trust organizers can also snap up derelict properties and turn them into soccer fields, playgrounds or affordable housing, she said.

Maxted and HCLT volunteers will gather public input during a launch in the King George ballroom at LIUNA Station at 7 p.m.

Attendees will discuss issues such as community gardens, brownfield conversion and affordable housing during a number of break-out sessions.

The HCLT is still figuring out what land it will pursue, and what developments will go on it, Maxted said. But it will start in the Beasley neighbourhood.

Land trusts get land in a lot of ways, from gifts of surplus land from the city to grant programs and fundraising.

Burlington, Vermont has one of North America’s oldest and best known land trusts. Known as the Champlain Housing Trust, the organization has manages 1,800 apartments, and stewards more than 520 homes in its shared-equity program.

It offers choices to residents with modest incomes, said Brenda Torpy, CEO of the Burlington trust and president of the National Community Land Trust Network.

“It offers a kind of ladder out of poverty,” she said. “We did not intend, when we created the trust, to think of home ownership as a stepping stone, but it is.”

Neighbours aren’t always happy with the land trust buys property, she said. “You have NIMBY-ism everywhere.” But the trust has a good enough track record that few people worry anymore.

“We invite people to come see our other properties so they can see that it did not ding property values. It increased them.”

The HCLT started in January and has about 20 volunteers so far.