Case Study: Sawmill Community Land Trust - Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Sawmill Community Land Trust (Sawmill CLT) in Albuquerque, NM provides an example of how CLTs can support community redevelopment and reduce displacement of existing residents. The Sawmill CLT was formed out of a community-driven planning process to redevelop the Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhood (between Old Town and downtown Albuquerque). The neighborhood had become blighted due to underinvestment and pollution from industrial facilities. The CLT’s first project, called Arbolera de Vida (Orchard of Life), was developed on a 27-acre formerly contaminated industrial property that it acquired from the city and facilitated clean up and redevelopment to include permanently affordable housing and other community amenities. The CLT stewards over 200 affordable housing units that incorporate green design features and has several more projects in development. Its developments also incorporate other community assets, including parks, community gardens and centers, and an orchard that contribute to community resilience in the neighborhood by building social cohesion, and improving public health and food security. This case study provides an example of a city-CLT partnership that helped advance environmental justice, sustainability, and intergenerational equity goals through the development of affordable housing projects that address pollution, improve public health, and build bonds between neighbors.


The Sawmill Community Land Trust (Sawmill CLT) in Albuquerque, New Mexico was founded in 1996 with the mission of acquiring and holding land in trust for the purpose of providing affordable housing. It was originally formed to support redevelopment efforts in the Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhood of Albuquerque, but has since extended its service area to include the entire City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. The CLT is helping to address both resilience and affordable housing challenges in the Albuquerque metropolitan region. 

The changing climate poses threats to Albuquerque’s most at-risk communities. New Mexico is the “sixth-fastest warming state” in the U.S. and has seen an annual increase in average temperature of 2.7°F since 1970. In 2012, the city experienced the hottest year on record with 85 days above 90°F. In addition to more heat waves, the region is also experiencing increasing water shortages due to drought and increasing demand on water supplies.1 

At the same time, many Albuquerque residents are precariously housed and experience housing cost burdens, which makes them more vulnerable to climate impacts and increasing costs of energy and water. More than 68 percent of low- and moderate-income households in Albuquerque (earning less than 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI)) are housing cost burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing) and 40 percent of this group is severely housing cost burdened (paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing).2 Additionally, more than 37,000 households report living in substandard (lacking adequate kitchen or plumping facilities) or overcrowded housing, with Black and Asian households experiencing disproportionate housing challenges. In the Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhood, for example, residents saw an increase in home values of 31 percent between 2000 to 2004.3  

CLT Projects & Activities 

Sawmill CLT has supported the development of permanently affordable housing and other community amenities in Albuquerque. The CLT focuses on providing housing to low- and moderate- income households earning less than 80% of AMI and developing projects that “preserve natural attributes and cultural history of the community,” and that support “ecological renewal and energy conservation.”

Planning: The CLT was formed as the result of a community-driven planning process to create a redevelopment plan for the Sawmill-Wells Park neighborhood, which was designated as a “blighted area” as a result of pollution and contamination, and slated for redevelopment in the 1990s. The purpose of the plan was to revitalize the neighborhood, clean up contamination, enhance quality of life, create jobs, and increase affordable housing, without displacing existing residents of the predominantly Hispanic, lower-income neighborhood. Formation of a community land trust was recommended as a strategy for repairing existing housing and repurposing vacant and underutilized parcels to support development of new affordable housing.4   

Affordable Housing: Since it was formed in 1997, Sawmill CLT has supported development of several affordable housing projects in Albuquerque that incorporate energy efficiency measures, green design features, and other community assets. Sawmill CLT’s first project, the Arbolera de Vida (Orchard of Life) project, was developed on a 27-acre formerly contaminated industrial site that it acquired from the city and cleaned up. It provides 93 housing units for low- and moderate-income residents and includes single-family detached homes, duplexes, townhomes, and live-work spaces. The CLT has also constructed housing for seniors and rental units for Artisans. 

To maintain permanent affordability, the CLT provides residents with a 99-year ground lease that includes resale restrictions. Homeowners receive a fair return on their investment at resale, which is determined by a resale formula that allows the seller to recoup their initial purchase price for the property, plus any improvements, and then a percentage of the home’s appreciated value (up to 30 percent), while at the time preserving affordability for future buyers. The CLT also has a right of first refusal to ensure that the home remains affordable and to protect homes from foreclosure. The CLT provides financial counseling and capacity-building to help first time homebuyers build a downpayment and make financial plans to help buyers purchase and maintain their homes. 

Sustainability & Resilience: Sawmill’s developments incorporate a range of community assets designed with community input and that have helped to build social cohesion among residents. Samwill developments include parks, playgrounds, community gardens, an orchard with above ground cisterns to harvest rainwater and limit water use, community clubhouses and other amenities. For example, the Arbolera de Vida development includes a number of community amenities like a playground, basketball court, dog park, and picnic area, which were installed with philanthropic funding and volunteer support. These amenities were designed with input from residents with the purpose enhancing the quality of residents and strengthening social bonds among neighbors. In fact, neighbors in Sawmill CLT developments report a greater sense of community, citing that residents often “swap-services like baby-sitting or share resources like tools.”5 

State & Local Support

The City of Albuquerque supported the initial start up of the CLT by acquiring and transferring title to a 27-acre brownfield site in the neighborhood to the CLT for redevelopment. The city also provided grants to staff the CLT and support development of affordable housing on sites, including grants to clean up contamination.6 

Funding & Financing

The CLT received $200,000 in annual grants from the city in Community Development Block Grants and other funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build the capacity of the CLT's staff and to provide funding to support predevelopment for affordable housing projects. The CLT also received $225,000 in Brownfield clean-up grant to pay for environmental remediation and redevelopment of contaminated properties.7  The city also contracts with the CLT to provide emergency home repairs, such as roof and utility repairs, for low and moderate income homeowners.


Publication Date: July 25, 2020

Related Organizations:

  • Sawmill Community Land Trust
  • City of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Related Toolkits:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

States Affected:


Go To Resource

City of Albuquerque Consolidated Plan

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Sawmill/Wells Park Redevelopment Plan

Brownfield Cleanup Grants