Free Acres is undoubtedly a quaint and enjoyable living environment for its residents. That said, the ideal that Bolton Hall had in mind (based on his affinity for the ideas of Henry George) never materialized. The reason is simple: the residents voted to under-collect as a charge under their leaseholds the full market ground rent for the parcels of land held. The result was and is that each lessee receives a considerable subsidy that is capitalized by market forces into a selling price for their leasehold interest. Henry George did not favor establishment of such utopian experiments; he was a realist and understood that the second generation of residents would vote their narrow interest and abandon the founding ideals.
Free Acres is not unique in this regard. Most other land trust communities established upon Henry George's principle that the full ground rent be collected by the community suffered similarly. This occurred in the three land trusts in Delaware known as Arden and in Fairhope on Mobile Bay in Alabama.
Had they remained consistent with Henry George's scheme, property prices in these communities would equal the value of improvement (i.e., houses and other types of buildings); the leasehold interest would have no dollar value. Instead, in Free Acres, in the Ardens, in Fairhope and in other such communities the property prices are as high or higher than those where the land is held fee simple.
The organizers of land trust communities in more recent times recognized the weakness in the model of their predecessors. Although they also subsidize affordability by chargintg ground rents based on household income and other measures of affordability, they imposed resale restrictions on houses that to a large extent prevent the ground rent subsidies from being capitalized.
Free Acres and its sister land trust communities need to re-examine the basis for their existence and consider the extent to which they have departed from the vision of their founders.
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