Equity Trust’s Founder, Chuck Matthei, was nationally known as a visionary thinker and activist for social justice
- Obituary by Joanne Sheehan in Nonviolent Activist (2002).
Charles Lee Matthei 1948-2002
Beginning as a teenager active in the Civil Rights movement, Chuck developed an approach to poverty and inequality that linked activism, economics and property issues into a powerful political message. His work has influenced many diverse movements, including community economic development, efforts to preserve family-run farmlands, the community loan fund network that ultimately became the basis of the Community Development Financial Institutions, and permanent affordability housing policies in Vermont, Massachusetts and many other states.
As Founder and Director of Equity Trust, Inc. (founded in 1991 and based in Voluntown, Connecticut), Chuck utilized his vision and expertise, as well as his creative financial management skills, to provide leadership and support to important domestic and international projects. In particular, he focused on alternative models of land tenure and economic development. Equity Trust has provided technical and financial assistance to projects all across the US, in Central America and Kenya. Examples of projects include: helping the last Gullah/Geechee community on Sapelo Island, Georgia acquire and protect land on their island in order to save their community and culture; acquiring 140 acres of land in the Hudson Valley that will be preserved as agricultural land and used by Roxbury Farm to provide food to its 650 community supported agriculture members; assisting students at Williams College to convince the school to create a community investment program as part of its endowment; and a series of conferences and publications on “Property and Values: Striking an Equitable Balance of Public and Private Interests”, undertaken in cooperation with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty. A charismatic public speaker, Chuck consulted extensively with community groups, religious organizations, governmental bodies, universities, financial institutions, and foundations on a range of topics including socially responsible investment, land stewardship, affordable housing and other economic issues.
From 1980-90, Chuck served as Executive Director of the Institute for Community Economics (ICE), then based in Greenfield, MA and now located in Springfield, MA. ICE pioneered the modern community land trust and community loan fund models. During Chuck’s tenure, the number of community land trusts increased from a dozen to more than 100 groups in 23 states, creating many hundreds of permanently affordable housing units, as well as commercial and public service facilities. With colleagues Chuck guided the development of 25 regional loan funds and organized the National Association of Community Development Loan Funds, now known as the National Community Capital Association. From 1985-90, Chuck served as a founding Chairman of the Association and from 1983-88 he served as a founding board member of the Social Investment Forum, the national professional association in the field of socially responsible investment.
Chuck Matthei was a practitioner of the philosophies and writings of Gandhi. He was an activist who emphasized non-violence as a way of life, participating in the Peacemakers organization and taking strong, often difficult measures to oppose war in any form. Chuck had a long association with the Catholic Worker movement, supporting both its network of soup kitchens and shelters and its critique of social systems that harmed the poor. Throughout his lifetime, Chuck remained true to his deeply held humanitarian convictions. His experiences and these convictions were significant factors in directing his efforts toward community economic development. Chuck died of cancer on Tuesday, October 1, 2002 in Voluntown, Conncticut at the age of 54. This gentle, brilliant nonviolent activist will be missed by many; he spoke to the core and possibility of each person he touched.