So, About That Anti-Inclusionary “Study”

Last week, I submitted the following letter to the editor of the LA Times in response to a vicious, and more importantly, extremely misleading op-ed, decrying inclusionary housing as a development killer. (Shout out to reader Sala Udin for sending us the link.) Since it seems that I was a little late to get it published, I wanted to share it with Rooflines readers, with a few extra thoughts:

Dear editors,

Contrary to Gary Galles’s ideological claims (op-ed. Jan. 6), multiple independent studies have shown that inclusionary housing policies do not slow production or raise prices. The study Galles emphasizes was builder-funded and has been roundly debunked. Among its many flaws, it didn’t look at comparable cities without inclusionary policies over the same time periods. Lo and behold, production also fell similar amounts in those places, leaving the study’s claim that inclusionary measures caused the drop with no supporting evidence.

Inclusionary housing policies are a win-win for everyone. Hard-working households struggling to make ends meet are able to live where they can get to jobs more easily and send their kids to better schools. Employers enjoy less turnover and more productive workers. And yes, developers win too by knowing what to expect and still earning a healthy profit while increasing opportunity in their communities.

I find it ironic that Galles has a book out that decries political decisions being made on the basis of bias rather than evidence, when that is clearly what he is doing here—relying on one extremely flawed study that supports his Econ 101 assumptions about how inclusionary zoning will affect housing markets to the exclusion of all the other much stronger studies that contradict those guesses. (Thanks to Victoria Basolo and Nico Calavita who took the time in 2004 to explain the study's flaws in great detail.) In the world of economics, “evidence-based” is too often trumped by a set of assumptions about the world that only hold true in the most simplified of situations. And the housing market is definitely not a simplified situation. 

It's important to correct misinformation like this (that is often the theme of our Answer column), even though confirmation bias (which happens to all of us) is very hard to overcome. I'm sure Galles will never be convinced, but those who might read him should have acess to a full picture.

Still we could also see this op-ed as a good sign—hey, inclusionary housing is worthy of debate in the LA Times!

Now is the time to keep telling the stories about why it is necessary and the good it does. Good luck, and tell us how you are getting the story out.

(Photo credit: Horia Varlan, via flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


  1. It is, indeed, important that the LA Times published an op-ed on inclusionary. Unfortunately, a number of letters were submitted but only one was posted and only in the online edition (from the directors of the SoCA Assoc of NonProfit Hsg & the CA Hsg Consortium. Nothing in the print edition even as Galles’ op-ed was placed prominently on the page, with a large photo of housing construction. The lack of published response may have been a wrong-headed decision of the op-ed editor, as the editorial board has expressed some support over the years, but serves as notice that we must always be diligent in responding to any opposition.

    FYI, here is another submitted by a group of academics/activists here in town that we thought was important as it referenced our recent CA Supreme Court case upholding inclusionary for homeownership in the City of San Jose.

    Gary Galles’ attack on inclusionary housing misses the mark. He relies on a Reason Foundation report from 2004 (not 2007) that was immediately debunked for faulty research methods. Many studies have concluded that inclusionary housing is unlikely to cause any significant increase in housing prices. Further, it is simply wrong to call inclusionary housing immoral and unfair. Developers like to build in neighborhoods with good schools, parks, and safe streets – all public goods paid for by taxpayers that increase developer profit. And most inclusionary policies provide valuable incentives and concessions to mixed-income projects. In this context, asking developers to reinvest in their communities by providing some affordable housing is fair and reasonable–not immoral. Finally, inclusionary housing is not an unconstitutional taking of private property. The California Supreme Court has affirmed that it is a legitimate exercise of a city’s inherent power to protect and enhance the public welfare.
    Frankly, this is a power we need our City to exercise. With unconscionable rates of homelessness and a housing crisis not seen since the Great Depression, well-crafted inclusionary policies are part of the answer. Private developers have an important role to play in ending this crisis. It’s time to get to work.

  2. IZ is self-evidently a tax on new development, and when you tax something, you should expect there to be less of it and for it to cost more — I suspect many of your readers support taxes on cigarettes on those grounds.

    On the other hand, the other regulations surrounding new housing have a bigger effect than IZ, so it’s not entirely shocking that the independent effect of IZ on the quantity and cost of housing is difficult to measure.

    More importantly, though, I find it depressing that people who call themselves affordable housing advocates fight so vociferously for a solution that provides so little affordable housing:


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