Washington Post Misses the Point on Inclusionary Zoning

Earlier this week, The Washington Post featured an article by Jeffrey O’Connell headlined, “DC affordable housing policy has put up a goose egg.” The article casts a pall over the city’s new inclusionary zoning program, citing a city report to the effect that the law had created no new affordable homes in Washington between last August, when it went into effect, and March of this year.

A little quick to judge a policy designed to produce long-range effects, don’t you think, six months during a recession? The city’s Department of Housing and Community Development summarizes the policy’s requirements and objectives:

“Inclusionary Zoning requires that a certain percentage of units in a new development or a substantial rehabilitation that expands an existing building set aside affordable units in exchange for a bonus density. The goals of the program are to create mixed income neighborhoods; produce affordable housing for a diverse labor force; seek equitable growth of new residents; and increase homeownership opportunities for low and moderate income levels.”

Worthy goals, those. If one stays with the Post story, one eventually comes to the more promising facts: development proposals requesting zoning approvals for 4800 homes have been submitted to the city. If those projects are approved and built, at least 430 new affordable homes (offered at below-market rents to qualifying applicants) will be included as part of the projects under inclusionary zoning. Further, building permits have already been sought for another 92 homes, eleven of which will be affordable because of the new policy.

In other words, while the recession has dampened homebuilding since the rules took effect, over 400 affordable homes are in planning because of inclusionary zoning, representing nine percent of the new units coming on line. So which is the real story here?

No one has argued that inclusionary zoning is a panacea for assuring access to housing for working families and other low- to moderate-income households. As a market-dependent strategy, its impacts will be greater when more homes are being built. But it is a valuable tool, as experience in communities across the country is indicating.

For more commentary, go here. (Photo of mixed-income housing in Chicago by Payton Chung)

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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