Data Says Inclusionary Housing Does Foster Economic Integration

Review of Is Inclusionary Zoning Inclusionary?, by Heather L. Schwartz, Liisa Ecola, Kristin J. Leuschner, Aaron Kofner. Rand Corporation, 2012.

Long time advocates of inclusionary housing (often known as “inclusionary zoning“) will be relieved to learn that a new report from the Rand Corporation confirms that the housing produced by these policies is in fact “inclusionary,” meaning it creates or preserves affordable housing in areas of low poverty. It is easy to imagine big headlines if the research had found the opposite, but it is nonetheless valuable to have hard data confirming that social programs are achieving their intended effects.

The Rand research team was led by Heather Schwartz, whose prior research on Montgomery County Maryland’s inclusionary housing compared the school performance of kids living in affordable housing in lower- and higher-poverty neighborhoods. In that study she found that low-income kids who moved to low-poverty schools were able to gradually catch up academically with their middle income peers while kids with stable affordable housing who stayed in high-poverty schools didn’t—even though Montgomery County spends more per student to support the kids in higher poverty schools.

This new paper tackles the far less controversial question of whether homes that are produced by inclusionary policies are in fact located in low-poverty neighborhoods and/or near high-quality schools.

Across the United States the majority of affordable housing units have been built in neighborhoods with high-poverty rates, but the Rand researchers found 75 percent of units produced through some sort of inclusionary ordinance were located in low-poverty neighborhoods. This is a big contrast to the 8 to 34 percent for other types of affordable housing. They looked at data from 11 cities and 15,500 affordable housing units. The average inclusionary unit in the study was located in a neighborhood where only 7 percent of households lived in poverty (half the national average). Only 2.5 percent of inclusionary homes were located in high-poverty neighborhoods.

And as we would expect, access to higher income neighborhoods provided access to better schools. The inclusionary homes were located in the catchment areas of schools that had slightly lower poverty rates and slightly higher test scores than the other schools in these communities.

While some might assume that an inclusionary housing program by its very nature would be expected to produce these results, the variation among cities that the report documents is ample evidence that we can’t take these results for granted—much depends on the details of the design and implementation of these programs, and policy makers and advocates have to pay attention to the data to ensure that the programs are doing what they were supposed to do.

Unfortunately, this kind of data is shockingly hard to come by. The Rand researchers obviously had a difficult time compiling data on the location and characteristics of inclusionary homes, and they conclude that lack of funding for monitoring and collection of outcome data was “perhaps the greatest commonality among the 11 localities.” They rightly conclude that, given the value of the investment that goes into these homes, every inclusionary ordinance should create and fund some mechanism for ongoing data collection and evaluation.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This is great research and good information to have.

    The next question is whether the inclusionary units produced are in fact housing school age children. Often, these units are small and not particularly family friendly so they may be housing young adults with modest incomes or seniors. Those are important populations that need housing, but if this is true it would mean that the educational benefits of such housing are less significant than we might think. Not sure whether Rand could get the data for such a study, but I would be interested in seeing it if they could.

  2. Joe,you pose a great question. I used to work for a firm that did market research for affordable housing projects all over the country and we often found that the affordable units had college students living in them. This was particularly true in urban areas.

    It’s important when building inclusionary housing to make sure that the units are large enough to house families by providing more two and three bedroom units. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program does award funding based on a point system that gives more points for larger units, which can help to improve the amount of units solely for families.

  3. I attempted to quickly read through the full study and I find some conclusions deserve more attention than others.

    1) 75% of units produced under IZ policies actually exist in low-poverty neighborhoods. It is important for practitioners to constantly challenge and verify our assumptions about policies. While we each can make an individual value assessment on that percentage, I find myself rather impressed the program accomplishes its basic goal at that level.

    2) I am impressed Rand was able to do as much as they did. For that, they deserve applause. Coming by this data is not easy, particularly across multiple jurisdictions. They are correct to advise a higher priority on data collection.

    3) Chapter 3 of the full study provides keys for practitioners and city officials looking to improve/create anew IZ policies. These policies can vary greatly and the options available to well-intentioned policy makers can be overwhelming. It’s helpful for Rand to summarize and evaluate those options.

    4) I find it rather unremarkable that students (regardless of income or subsidy) at a good school perform better. And students at a not-so-good school, perform not-so-good. I think that point is overstated. An area for additional research begins on page 10, where Rand begins (but doesn’t finish) a chicken-egg type debate about the extent to which good neighborhoods cause good schools or visa-versa. In other words, can IZ policies actually improve schools? A tall order, indeed. But preliminary evidence suggests that intentionally blurring the line between wealthy and poor neighborhoods – through IZ – can lift up poor performing schools. Even that possibility deserves greater attention and scrutiny.

    For many reasons, some not within the researchers control, this study can make only limited conclusions. However, taken in a broader context, this at least gives us a baseline to say that IZ policies verifiably do what they claim to do, which is far from an insignificant claim. How many community economic development programs can say that?

  4. Following on Joe and Kathryn’s comments, I would just note that tax-credit regulations minimize the chance of college students occupying their units; they only allow adult FT students in very limited cases (such as a single parent, or a couple who are married and file jointly).

  5. I’m very curious to know what kind of research, if any, has been done to measure long-term outcomes of inclusive housing.

    For example, what kind of re-verification processes are in place to track the SES of affordable housing residents living in inclusive developments?

    In other words, if someone initially qualifies for affordable housing, based on income level, what steps are taken down the road to check whether that person’s SES has risen to a point where s/he no longer requires affordable-housing and can afford market-rate housing – thus, allowing their affordable-priced unit to go to someone else who needs affordable-housing?

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