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October 24, 2005

Housing Supplies, Housing Surprise

The Eugene Register-Guard notes a problem:  higher land prices are making it harder for nonprofits to build affordable housing in the city.

The New York Times reports on what America's biggest city has done about the same problem:  an inclusionary zoning program, that lets developers build at higher densities, provided that they set aside some housing units for low-income housing.

Now, if anything, the Big Apple's problems with providing affordable housing positively dwarf Eugene's, since both land and construction costs are so much more expensive in New York.  But if the Grey Lady is to be believed, inclusionary zoning can harness the high demand for housing to create more housing options for folks who don't have the money for a luxury condo:

"The traditional equation," said Shaun Donovan, the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, "has been that the stronger the real estate market, the harder it is to provide affordable housing. These programs turn that old equation on its head because the stronger the market, the greater the incentive for developers to use these programs and, therefore, provide affordable housing."

As we've mentioned before, hundreds of jurisdictions around the country have used inclusionary zoning to try to boost affordable housing, with mixed results.  Here's hoping that New York's recent experience can offer some lessons that other places can learn from.

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The Gray Lady is not to be believed. The story mentioned various so-called benefits to some individuals, but Inclusionary Zoning on Manhattan's West Side results with a net loss of affordable housing due to pressures from secondary displacement. It's a way to bulldoze a nice neighborhood and replace it with high-rise towers, not to mention paying off landlords like Restuccia who many have filed harassment complaints against. The New York Times also fails to mention they have real estate interests in the area.

Every locality is different and inclusionary zoning may be a solution in some areas, but where gentrification pressures exist, it carries many negative impacts ... which is why many in the tenant community oppose the increased use of this zoning mechanism (at least those of us who aren't getting paid off by Shaun Donovan's HPD machine). There's little good government merit to all of this -- it's typical NYC dirty patronage at work.

Posted by: John Fisher | Oct 25, 2005 1:09:59 AM

This type of compromise has been used in Berkeley, CA. as well, to little good effect. Generally, what ended up happening was that a bunch of fairly reasonable (for the area) homes were razed and then a large building with just a few moderately-expensive (I wouldn't say affordable) apartments added was built. I've found that developers' and cities' ideas of "low-income" housing tend to be ridivulously expensive. (Think of it as adding some token middle/low income people.) It seems like a good idea in theory, but I've yet to see the practice work well.

Posted by: Jayne Kaszynski | Oct 28, 2005 7:05:33 PM