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Inclusionary Zoning Programs: More Than a Hopeful Mechanism to Achieving Affordable Housing?

By: Alicia Philip
Blog Category: Housing/Entitlement Programs 

Inclusionary zoning (“IZ”) is a mechanism increasingly utilized to provide affordable housing in an economically integrative manner.[1]  IZ promotes economic and racial integration by enabling lower- and moderate-income residents to live in middle- or upper-income communities requiring a private rather than public subsidy, contrary to most housing programs.[2]  In exchange for development rights and zoning variances, residential developers are either mandated or encouraged to make a percentage of housing units within residential developments available to lower- and moderate-income residents by allowing homes to be sold or rented at below-market prices.[3]

Since inception of the first IZ program in 1974, in Montgomery County, Maryland, this flexible apparatus has been implemented in varying forms in many states and localities within the United States.[4]  More than providing a fiscally attainable method to achieving affordable housing, IZ can be held accountable for the subtle shifts towards much needed racial, economic, and social integration.[5]  Yet even with these triumphs, IZ programs still play a relatively low role in meeting the nation’s need for affordable housing.[6]

Despite this relatively low role in meeting the national need for affordable housing, the degree of access that IZ provides low-income residents to low-poverty and suburban neighborhoods and its potential to provide low-income families with extended exposure to low-poverty settings creates added beneficial force.[7]  These facts set it apart from other affordable housing programs.[8]  IZ programs notably—unlike any other affordable housing program—enable communities to retain their character while simultaneously providing affordable housing and access to amenities not often available in low poverty areas. [9]

Although laudable, the benefits of IZ programs cannot be presented in a vacuum.  IZ zoning continues to be a very controversial issue, criticized by opponents for shifting the costs and responsibility of providing affordable housing on others in society, namely the developers, extracting the upwardly mobile poor from the remainder of central city residents, and causing undue growth and decrease in the market values of homes in locations that would not otherwise experience it.[10]  These criticisms, however, appear to be de minimis when compared to the myriad of benefits that continue to result from inclusionary zoning programs.[11]

As such, inclusionary zoning programs can be laundered as more than just a hopeful mechanism to facilitate our Nation’s goals in addressing affordable housing concerns and of being more of a powerful and progressive mechanism to ensure that our communities achieve integration economically.[12]  With effective policy design choices,[13] residual benefits of IZ programs will manifest and have an enduring impact on critically looming societal issues: affordable housing and racial, economical, and social integration.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  

[1] Heather L. Schwartz, Liisa Ecola, Kristin J. Leuschner & Aaron Kofner, Is Inclusionary Zoning Inclusionary? A Guide for Practitioners, rand Corporation, iii (Feb. 19, 2013) http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR1231.

[2] The Effects of Inclusionary Zoning on Local Housing Markets: Lessons from the San Francisco, Washington DC and Suburban Boston Areas, nhc.org, 2 (Mar. 2008) http://www.nhc.org/media/documents/IZ_in_SF,_DC,_Boston.pdf?phpMyAdmin=d3a4afe4e37aae985c684e22d8f65929.

[3] See Schwartz et al., supra note 1, at iii.

[4] See Timothy S. Hollister, Allison M. McKeen & Danielle G. McGrath, National Survey of Statutory Authority and Practical Considerations for the Implementation of Inclusionary Zoning Ordinances, nahb.org, 5-10 (June 2007) http://www.nahb.org/fileUpload_details.aspx?contentTypeID=3&contentID=159814&subContentID=355375.

[5] Schwartz et al., supra note 1, at 7-11 (explanation of social inclusion and economic integration benefits).

[6] Id. at 7.

[7] Id. at 27-28.

[8] Id. at xiv.

[9] See Burchell et al., supra note 3.

[10] Id.

[11] See generally Policylink, Inclusionary Zoning, http://www.policylink.org/site/c.lkIXLbMNJrE/b.5137029/k.2B2E/Why_Use_it.htm (last visited Mar. 14, 2013); Burchell et al., supra note 3; Schwartz et al., supra note 1, at xii-iii, 7.

[12] See generally Policylink, supra note 14.

[13] See generally Schwartz et al., supra note 1, at 21-26.

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