Implementing an Inclusionary Housing Policy
Income inequality is one of the biggest issues our country faces, as the poor remain poor for generations and the rich remain rich. It has left many to question whether the American dream is still attainable for those living in poverty.
Research has shown that people living in slums, surrounded by only the poor, are hurting terribly in this country. Living in neighborhoods segregated from the middle class makes connections to fair wage jobs difficult, their children are raised in a culture that doesn’t cultivate job skills, and crime makes it difficult to move ahead. The economics of these neighborhoods further the gap, with few new developments going in and poor transportation options.
Research has shown that living in poor neighborhoods decreases income, education outcomes, increases depression, and even decreases IQ. As you can probably guess, this disproportionately impacts blacks and hispanics, who have been forced into low income neighborhoods over the last 100 years through racist development practices and federal policies.
Inclusionary Zoning is a policy that states that any new buildings include a percent set aside for only low income people at rates they can afford. Some of these policies are mandatory, some allow developers to pay fees to bypass them, and others give incentives such as density increases if they agree to providing these affordable houses.
This is a sharp diversion from traditional solutions to building affordable housing, which generally builds dense housing on inexpensive land far away from where jobs are. Inclusionary housing allows low income people to live in areas they wouldn’t normally be able to afford, and are more likely to be located near public transportation, jobs, and public amenities.
Inclusionary housing is fiercely debated among economists, specifically as to whether it is the best way to provide affordable housing or not. Inclusionary housing is an odd mix of government regulations mixed with free market direction, and some economists argue a more direct free market or government run approach is more effective. However, it has been shown to have increased the number of affordable housing units by 150,000 over several decades. That’s a small number compared to other programs, but it’s not insignificant.
There’s also wide difference in outcomes between cities inclusionary housing programs. Some, like Los Angeles, California, found large impacts, others found very small. Because of the government and private sector structure of these the reasons for this cut both ways. Some government programs mandate inclusionary housing, others simply incentivize for it. This makes the policy much less effective. From the private side, many cities don’t see large enough housing growth in new developments to make the policies effective.
Video: How Inclusionary Housing Works
Inclusionary housing mandates make it more difficult for developers to build, hampering economic growth. What we need to do is build more housing if we want it to be affordable, not make it harder to build. This will also bring crime into our neighborhoods as people from the slums move in and bring their problems with them.
We need to do a better job of taking care of our citizens and providing them with affordable housing options. This isn’t just a question of poverty, even middle class people are being squeezed out of housing in our area. A hardworking family living on minimum wage can’t afford a 2 bedroom house in our city.
This will enhance economic development by providing affordable housing to young and mid career professionals that are working in our local companies. In addition, it is completely budget neutral, and is generally structured to be purely optional for developers.
How To Pass It
Inclusionary housing policies are highly technical, and require city staff to construct. Your goal is not so much in formulating the policy position, but in pressuring elected officials to direct staff to bring back progressive policies that will help alleviate poverty and income inequality.
This has been done in a number of ways. Washington, DC groups put together a broad coalition of partners and launched a successful campaign to.pass this through the city with progressive groups. Many cities utilize their African American community to make it into an issue that elected officials will listen to.
Your city should pass a requirement that 20 percent of new housing from developers allow those below the 60 percent of area median income to be housed there. The most effective cities mandate inclusionary housing, but some make it optional with incentives such as density increases. If you have no policy on the books, it is generally better to start with a smaller number than above and make it optional, with the hope of lobbying for more stringent rules down the road.
What You Can Do
Look to see if anyone else is working on this issue and join them. Forcing developers to provide affordable housing is an ongoing battle, even after the policy is passed. If you can’t find anyone, see if your city has a policy on the books, and if it has any teeth to it. Your city planning department should be able to give you this information. If there isn’t a policy on the books consider working this through a larger organization, such as local labor unions, anti-poverty groups, and left leaning religious organizations. Be prepared from pushback from your local Chamber of Commerce, who are generally funded by big developers who are not particularly keen on taking money out of their own pockets.
- InclusionaryHousing.Org – Everything you need to know about Inclusionary Housing
- Inclusionary Housing Fact Sheet – Local Progress
- What Makes Inclusionary Housing Happen? – National Housing Conference
- Inclusionary Housing Toolkit – Bay Area Inclusionary Housing Initiative
- Inclusionary Zoning Does Not Drive Up Housing Costs – Citylab
- Can Affordable Housing Activists Save New York? – The American Prospect