Exclusionary Zoning vs. Inclusionary Zoning Essay

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Initially the urge to provide better and safer housing for the low income population in New York City can be dated to at least as far back as the Jacob Riiss 1891 book, How the Other Half Lives. In his book, he vividly depicts the pathetic conditions the low-income New Yorkers (other half) live in; he also gives a sociological account of what is supposed to be done if the problems would be solved. His, work culminated into a great debate that set the stage for affordable housing in the City of New York.

[Riis (1891)] What followed was a series of reforms and counter reforms on cleaning up slums and improving safety in residential areas. Over time, the conditions of the slums were gradually improved, the goal of the reformers now changed. For instance, in early 1960s, marked a shift from early safety reforms to provision of decent housing was witnessed. The reasons were obvious, basic safety issues such as protection from fire and other elements were already accomplished, hence the shift to a new issue: provision of middle-income quality housing to low-income population.

Today, the middle income population continues to benefit from projects that have been initiated by the New York City Council in collaboration with other organizations. [Affordable Housing in New York, 2005] The influx of Italians and other Eastern European immigrants to occupy work positions in the labor-hungry New York City in the last quarter of the 19th century spurred the debate on affordable housing. For instance, there was a change from the market approach to regulated approach of providing affordable housing.

Since the World War II ended the approach of providing affordable housing has assumed three methods, namely; constructing new houses that are wholly owned, dispensed and managed by the City of New York through the New York City Housing Authority; building houses that are affordable through several regulatory incentives and programs to private sector developers, and; subsidizing through monthly income payments, either to tenants or to building owners in behalf of a tenant, partial payment for a monthly rent.

Over the past seventy five years, a number of residences have been achieved through these three approaches, they include; publicly built and owned housing: 247, 500 units; direct subsidies and real estate grants: 103,600 units; publicly assisted housing through loan subsidization programs, government bonds cost-write down programs: 296,600 units; publicly assisted housing through government tax abatement programs: 32 ,754 units. The strengths of New York City as a residential market are as a result of challenges that the city has faced over the recent past decades.

[Affordable Housing in New York, 2005] Back in 1970, the City of New York launched a real Property Tax law (article 421-a) policy that was aimed at encouraging the construction of more buildings. This was a time when the city was experiencing fiscal crisis and the residential housing market was the worst hit. The 421-a, tax exemption was available for new housing developments that comprised of three or more units, located in the areas that were vacant or underutilized or had a nonconforming zoning use.

This program meant that owners of such housing units were exempted from paying the increase in property taxes that result from new construction, e. g. if the vacant land was valued at $2 million, and upon constructions of new units its value increases to $15 million, the owner will not be taxed for the $13 million increase in value within the exemption period. In the course of the implementation of the policy, the city officials designated an exclusion zone, between 14th and 96th streets. In this zone, developers became eligible for 421-a, only if they agreed to build affordable units for low-income families.

According to the policy, the developers could either make one-fifth of their units affordable (in development known as an 80/20) or they as well buy tax breaks by purchasing negotiable certificates that could be used to create affordable housing elsewhere in the city. In other neighborhoods, developers were eligible for receiving an as-of-right exemption for any development at all. In lower Manhattan and between 96th and 110th streets, market-rate buildings were eligible for a 10-year exemption. For developers in areas above 110th street and in all other boroughs they were eligible for a 15-year exemption.

[Pratt Center(421-a)] As of 2005, the City of New York had approximately 1,020,891 housing units that fell under the income qualified category, out of the citys total 3. 1 million housing units. These income qualified housing units were distributed across the five districts that form the city: Manhattan has 213,865, Brooklyn had, 329,201, Queens had 257,921, Bronx had 177,344, while Staten Island had 42, 560. As part of provision of affordable housing, the New York is in the middle of a programs that expands its household population by 105, 200.

This program was started way back in 2005 and it is estimated to end by 2010, it will comprise of 79,200 low- and moderate-income households (below 135 % of median income) and 25,500 middle- and upper-income households. As a matter of fact, should the expectations that are placed on this program (2005-2010) reflect the past experiences (1990-2000), then, about 115,000 new housing units will be met all directed to low- and moderate-income households. [Affordable Housing in New York, 2005] The Mayor Bloomberg administration has remained steadfast in the creation of affordable housing for the citys working class population.

Back in 2007, it initiated a record breaking unusual design of working-class housing that targets converting into use the citys dwindling number of large tracts of land. The program consists of low- and moderate-income housing complex bound together by court yards and roof gardens that would be used for everything from harvesting rainwater to farming vegetables and fruits. With the partnership of the American Institute of Architects, the Bloomberg administration has vowed to create or to preserve about 165,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing by the year 2013.

For as little as one dollar, the city gave the selected team of developers an oddly shaped, empty 60,000-spuare-foot lot at Brook Avenue and East 156th Street in the South Bronx, which it condemned in an urban renewal program in 1972. The 202-apartment complex, called Via Verde, or the Green way, will comprise of an 18-story tower at the north end, a mid-rise building with duplex apartments, and townhouses to the south. The garden would begin right from the ground level, and then it will spiral upward in a series of roof gardens that face south, culminating in what the team calls a sky terrace.

[Scott (2007)] Despite being in operation for more than three decades, the 421-a policy has not made any substantial progress in creating more affordable homes. According to the IBOs 2003 report, only 8% (4,905) of the 60,000 units subsidized through the 10-, 15-, and 20-year 421-a programs between 1985 and 2002 were affordable to low- or moderate-income families. Ironically there was a significant increase in 421-projects in the recent years as the real estate market has boomed while affordability has diminished.

Whereas it served as an antidote to abandonment, the 421-a program needs to be changed or even abandoned. In its present form, the program is a massive misuse of public funds as it continues to subsidize expensive neighborhoods at the expense of low-income families, nearly 80% of the benefits going to Manhattan instead of the low-income areas. [Pratt Center(421-a)] The program has been a big failure especially in the Staten Island area where very little affordable houses have been built since its inception in 1970.

In my local neighborhood many people are still struggling to put up with the payment of house rent, which in most cases exceeds more of the 35% of their income. I belong to a local self-help group whose main purpose is to assist members to pay house rent among other minor purposes. We normally assist two members every month, but lately the expenses have been overwhelming to organizations budget. As a result, we recently embarked on efforts to have all the members, move from the houses that they currently live in to City Council- subsidized houses.

Our efforts have however, not borne any fruits as there are very few such houses in the neighborhood which makes it hard for one to get one. Efforts to look for low-income houses in other areas within the city have equally hit a snag. Inclusionary Zoning Inclusionary zoning is a housing policy that requires that a given share of new housing units be affordable to people with low moderate incomes. It is a planning policy that is aimed at countering exclusionary zoning practices which aim at excluding affordable housing from municipality through zoning code.

In practice, inclusionary zoning practices involve placing deed restrictions on 10%-30% of newly constructed housing units in order for them to be more accessible (affordable) to low-income city dwellers. These affordable houses are built alongside the market-rate houses and therefore are beneficial to many. [Padilla (1995)] Many municipalities all over the US are now embracing inclusionary zoning practices as it provides the best solution to affordable housing problems that many municipalities face. An example of a city where this policy has been successfully used is the City of Newton, Massachusetts.

The City is comprised of 13 villages, eight wards, and is governed by an elected mayor and a 24-member Board of Aldermen. Over the years Newton has been vibrant in terms of provision of affordable housing. In regards to accessibility from other cities, Newton is easily accessible via the Massachusetts Turnpike, 1-95, MBTA, and multiple bus lines. Other key facilities that the city boasts of are an award-winning public library, nationally-recognized public school system, well-maintained parks, bicycle and fitness trails, golf courses, a public pool, and a lake.

The housing system in Newton is predominantly single-family, with home prices typically at the upper end of Boston real estate market. As of 2005, 6. 6% of the housing units in Newton were classified as affordable in the states Subsidized Housing Inventory. [Mansfield, G. E. (chairman), 2004] Newtons inclusionary zoning system can be traced back in the 1960s, however, it was not until 1977, when it codified its first zoning ordinance. It was the first community in Massachusetts to practice inclusionary zoning, and it has an affordable housing history that all the communities should learn from.

Since its inception, the inclusionary zoning program in Newton has undergone numerous changes geared towards making more vibrant and relevant to the prevailing economic conditions. For instance, recently in 2003, the city carried out an overhaul that has improved the program, in the new package developers can be extended contemporaneous special permits for construction of off-site inclusionary units. [Mansfield, G. E. (chairman), 2004] The income qualification for eligible households is set between 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for rental housing to 120% of AMI for for-sale housing.

The control period for affordability is usually forty years, during this time developers are allowed to retain ownership of the affordable units and they are released through the Newton Housing Authority. This requirement helps to put the risks on the developer, and hence making the units affordable to eligible families. At least 10% of habitable space within development must be reserved for affordable housing; total square footage rather than individual units is used as the regulatory measure. This gives developers freedom to choose the housing types from luxury condominiums to affordable studios, all within a single structure.

The revised program offers alternatives to on-site construction of affordable housing: developments that contain six or fewer residential units, the developer may make cash payment of 3% of the sales price for for-sale housing, or 3% of the assessed value of each unit for rental housing, in lieu of affordable housing development. [City of Newtons Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, 1977] The housing problems that are currently faced by the City of New York can be fixed through the adoption of inclusionary zoning practices. The Citys woes have been as a result of using the 421-a policy.

Developers have been misusing the policy to build luxury market-rate housing units in Manhattan at the expense of affordable ones. It is time that the New York City adopts new housing policy to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing. The inclusionary zoning practice is a suitable alternative for failed 421-a (exclusionary zoning) system. It will make up for the shortcomings of the three decade-421-a system. This new policy will help to equally distribute the affordable housing units in all areas of the New York City, unlike the existing policy that has been criticized for benefiting Manhattan at the expense of other areas.

In order to fully adapt the new policy to New York City context, some by laws will have to be amended, for instance the City of New York zoning and building codes laws. The nonconforming zones were the only areas according Citys zoning laws whereby the affordable housing projects were supposed to be put on, this need to be changed, as according to the new program, at least 10% of habitable space should be set aside for affordable housing. This change will enable the construction of more affordable housing units in as many areas of the City as possible.

[Padilla (1995)] Such a change will involve the Citys planning department who will set the table for consultation with the stakeholders in the construction industry within the City. The consultations will obvious take considerable time as the all the stakeholders will have to make a consensus before making the new policy to legally abiding. The City of New York mayor and the director of planning will be the best people to engage first as they weald considerable power in the City legislation processes.

In order to convince them I will come up with a full report outlining the workability of the new policy in regards to its success in Newton City based on the inherent conditions of the New York City. I will also include a list of other cities that have similar characteristics to New York where the inclusionary zoning practice has been carried out successfully. Other strong points in my report will be the need for a fully shared responsibility between the public and the private sector for providing affordable housing for all income levels and the need for social integration in the building of affordable housing units.


Pratt Center for Community Development: Habitat for Humanity New York. Subsidize Affordable Houses, Not Luxury Development, accessed on April 7, 2009 The Steven Newman Real Estate Institute, Baruch College/CUNY (2005). Report to the New York Public Advocate: Affordable Housing in New York City, accessed on April 7, 2009 Scott, J. (2007). New Housing New York Legacy project. New York Times feature (available online at; http://aiany. org/NHNY, ), accessed on April 7, 2009 Riis, J. (1891).

How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, accessed on April 7, 2009 Padilla, L. (1995). Reflections on Inclusionary Housing and a Renewed Look at its Viability Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 23, p. 576, accessed on April 7, 2009 City of Newtons Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, available at; http://www. ci. newton. ma. us/housingdevelopment/programs. htm, accessed on April 7, 2009 Mansfield, G. E. (chairman), City of Newton, Land Use Committee Agenda (2004), accessed on April 7, 2009

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