For city governments, the big appeal of IZ is the fact that it often requires little or no public subsidy. But if the affordable units IZ produces feel “free” to governments, they are anything but for the developers who produce them. Therein lies the rub: How much affordable housing can cities demand from private developers without making new housing construction economically infeasible? And even if cities can find the IZ sweet spot, will such policies ever produce enough affordable housing to make a dent in the need?
A growing number of cities, counties, and even a couple of states have decided inclusionary zoning is worth it, even as they acknowledge that such policies are hardly a solution to the housing crisis. In one building in San Francisco, for instance, 6,580 households applied for 95 affordable units that were partially funded by IZ policies.
But producing affordable housing is not IZ’s only goal. It was developed in the U.S. in the 1970s in response to the widespread trend of “exclusionary zoning” (also sometimes known as “snob zoning”), which includes zoning practices like mandating minimum lot sizes and other legal loopholes advocated by NIMBYs who seek to prevent the construction of affordable housing in their neighborhoods. In this way, IZ is a tool of desegregation, forcing wealthy people to live cheek-by-jowl with lower-income residents, and improving the latter’s prospects for upward mobility.
July 17, 2018