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“Inclusive Upzoning” Can Help Make Rents More Affordable for Middle and Low-Income Households

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to the problem of rising middle-class rents and what to do about it.

In my op-ed for, I write about the importance of amending our zoning codes to allow more apartments where demand is surging – in walkable cities and town centers near jobs and transit. But the second piece of this solution, as I discuss, is asking private developers that benefit from relaxed zoning to ensure some of the new homes they build are priced affordably for our teachers and other low-to-middle-income neighbors who are struggling with rents nearly half their income.

screenshot of the author's op-ed on
Why middle class can’t afford rents, on

I’ve been inspired by the growing number of places nationwide that are making this link between growth and affordability. They’re part of a new crop of “inclusionary housing” policies that has emerged since the housing downturn. Places like Arlington County, Va., which requires developers that take advantage of a new, flexible form-based code along a major transit corridor to price 20-35% of net new development at below-market rents. Or Redmond, Wash., where almost every time a new neighborhood plan is adopted that increases development opportunities it’s linked to a 10% housing affordability mandate.

Most prominently, New York City is now moving under Mayor Bill de Blasio to strengthen its inclusionary housing policy for areas of the city that are being rezoned and redeveloped as part of the previous mayor’s New Housing Marketplace plan (PDF). As candidate de Blasio put so well in 2013:

“New York used to build for the middle class. Today, it seems to build only for the wealthy…. [W]hen neighborhoods are rezoned — unlocking enormous value for building owners — developers should be required to build affordable housing for low- and middle-income families in return….”

In a forthcoming report due out in June, I take a closer look at inclusionary housing policies that strike this kind of bargain with developers, and their potential to address local housing challenges in various political and legal environments. Stay tuned!

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