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We’ve talked about how housing is important for health. We’ve talked about how we can improve access to housing through stimulation of production through the LIHTC. We’ve talked about how we can improve access through vouchers and mobility programs. There’s one more thing we’d like to discuss: Inclusionary zoning. Zoning rules are important for making neighborhoods and municipalities function smoothly, but they can also be written in ways that keep low-income residents from moving to certain neighborhoods.

David Tuller, a lecturer in UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and Graduate School of Journalism, wrote about this recently in a policy brief at Health Affairs. It’s also the topic of this week’s HCT.

Resources used in the making of this episode:
-Housing And Health: The Role Of Inclusionary Zoning:
-The Effects of Inclusionary Zoning on Local Housing Markets: Lessons from the San Francisco, Washington DC and Suburban Boston Areas:
-Inclusionary Housing in the United States: Prevalence, Impact, and Practices:
-Silver Bullet or Trojan Horse? The Effects of Inclusionary Zoning on Local Housing Markets:
-Is Inclusionary Zoning Inclusionary?:
-Community Land Trusts (CLTs):

Related HCT episodes:
1. Housing and Health:

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We've talked about how housing is important for health. We've talked about how we can improve access to housing through stimulation or production with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. We've talked about how we can improve access though vouchers and mobility programs. There's one more thing we'd like to discuss: inclusionary zoning.

David Teller, a lecturer at U.C. Berkley School of Public Health and Graduate School of Journalism, wrote about this recently in a policy brief at Health Affairs. It's also the topic of this week's Healthcare Triage.


Inclusionary zoning tries to create affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods in an effort to increase, or at least not decrease, racial and socioeconomic integration. It tries to insure that as private developers create new housing that matches or beats what already exists in a defined area, they also agree to build some low-income housing, too.

There are a number of ways to do this. Regulations can force housing builders to include a certain number of low-income units in any new development. They can mandate that developers agree to build low-income housing elsewhere when they construct more market-matching housing. They can require them to pay fees when they build housing that can be used to build housing in poorer neighborhoods.

While some inclusionary zoning policies are opt-in, many are mandatory. They don't just make demands, though. They also offer incentives to developers in terms of density of housing, easier permitting, reductions in fees, or other financial giveaways. Like the Low Income Housing Tax Credits, they require that housing subject to these rules remain affordable for a long time, often three decades or more.

Each of these approaches has pros and cons. Developers may favor separating the low-cost housing into other areas, but that can lead residents without access to some neighborhoods or amenities. Paying fees might seem like a cop-out, but it's sometimes desirable because it allows for the revitalization of poorer neighborhoods. This benefits not only new housing, but existing housing as well.

The opposite of inclusionary zoning, of course, is exclusionary zoning. This is all-to-often the norm in well-to-do neighborhoods. They set up hoops and hurdles that make building any housing, let alone affordable housing, difficult or impossible. Think NIMBY on steriods. 

Inclusionary zoning differs from some of the other programs we've discussed, because it seeks to diffuse affordable housing into neighborhoods. Instead of letting it cluster in poorer or less desirable areas.

States haven't adopted inclusionary zoning policies on an equal basis. New Jersey accounts for more than half of all the programs in the United States. Massachusetts for more than a quarter. Add in California, and those three states account for more than 90% of inclusionary zoning programs in the United States.

Inclusionary zoning policies usually aren't as generous as some of the other programs we've discussed, meaning that they create housing that's still out of reach for the poorest families. They can be combined with voucher programs, however, to try and make this better. Regulations can also be tailored to meet the needs of the community. Sometimes, they may need smaller units for the elderly. Sometimes they may need more family-focused units.

Inclusionary zoning programs are sometimes easier to implement, because they don't necessarily require the government to come up with a lot of cash. If developers want to develop market-grade housing, and let's face it, they do, it places the onus on them to create low-income housing, too.

A 2017 national survey of inclusionary zoning policies found that they were responsible for the development of more than 170,000 housing units. Most were available to rent, and about a third to buy. That's about 10% of what the Low Income Housing Tax Credit generated, though. But, 10% is nothing to sneer at, and this comes at a lower upfront cost to the public, which can be a barrier.

The usual concerns apply. People worry that inclusionary zoning will lead their property values to drop. Results from a 2008 study in Boston and San Francisco would beg to differ. It found that concerns were somewhat exaggerated, as any negative effects were modest.

It's important to note that sometimes the benefits in terms of how much housing was created were exaggerated, too. But, inclusionary zoning does seem to work. A 2012 RAND study found that while about a third of housing created through other programs was in low-poverty neighborhoods, about three-quarters of housing created by inclusionary zoning was. Further, kids living in inclusionary zoning created housing did better in school, likely because they had access to education in low-poverty settings. 

Inclusionary zoning isn't always appropriate. It's not going to work in areas where developers don't want to build. During the recession, for instance, it was not only hard to build, it was also hard to find low-income renters or buyers who could afford the housing, anyway. In such settings, we're going to need vouchers and/or stimulus like tax credits. They also require some nimble policy decisions. Regulations need to change as an area's needs change. We also need to make sure that housing created through programs remains affordable to low-income seekers over an extended period of time. Sometimes, community land trusts or other non-profit organizations can help with this.

Affordable housing matters. It contributes to society in any number of ways, including health. We can help developers to build through incentives like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. We can help individuals and families to afford housing through vouchers. And, we can use programs like inclusionary zoning to help integrate neighborhoods over time. All of these have worked in different ways. All of them have their place.

Affordable housing is a worthy goal. We've seen a lot of programs succeed pretty well, but that doesn't mean we don't need more.


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