Dramatic changes to inclusionary zoning have yet to be seen

Are affordable housing policies like “inclusionary zoning” actually more likely to kill — rather than create — the construction of much-needed housing?

A recent study by the Interagency Working Group on Neighborhood Interaction highlights just how subjective inclusionary zoning policies can be.

According to the Interagency Working Group, nearly half of the 47 apartment complexes that received inclusionary zoning since 2013 “have instead been replaced” with other kinds of buildings. While half were converted from rental to market rate housing, others were bought by bigger, better-funded developers, who “recently pursued increased revenue from infrastructure improvements through development of a better-conditioned property on an adjacent site,” according to the report.

In the particular instance of Soliz Apartments, a project with a 1,097-unit rent-restricted building, 66% of the total building units (206) were converted to luxury units; 62% of the units were apartments with three bedrooms or more. Rent at the building now goes for $3,500 a month, or nearly double the rent on an affordable apartment.

The analysis tracks a pattern seen across the US, where inclusionary zoning codes have been created to protect tenants from gentrification and expand availability of affordable housing. But critics have long said the increased competition between different rental kinds for tenants and renters could have a negative effect on what cities want: affordable housing.

“Increasingly, the goal of affordable housing for low-income people (and many middle-class people) is to make it easier for large private investors to make a profit, by making people move out, rather than to protect vulnerable people, increase the supply of low-income housing, or simply create more of it,” wrote Maia Szalavitz for The Nation in 2018.

As that analysis points out, “It is often the case that the effect of inclusionary zoning is to shift wealth from poor people to rich people.” Szalavitz cites one San Francisco building where the building manager sold the building to an equity fund, which then went on to demolish the affordable housing units to make way for a 25-story high-rise.

So what does expand the supply of affordable housing actually mean? For one, that’s still pretty difficult to quantify, especially because of so many landlords who keep their apartments affordable by getting under-renters, said Maia Szalavitz in a podcast that CNN published in November 2018.

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