Are you in the 21st century with a game plan that in many ways was conceived in the late 19th or early 20th century? If you work in housing or planning in a city, chances are, the answer is yes — and these outdated game plans are at the foundation of cities and regional economies that are built to exclude and deny equal opportunity to all.
A new publication, “What About Housing? A Policy Toolkit for Inclusive Growth,” offers help for local governments and others who want to craft a new game plan for the 21st century, one based on inclusion and equal opportunity for all.
The toolkit comes from Grounded Solutions, the membership-based organization that formed as a merger of the National Community Land Trust Network and Cornerstone Partnership. Grounded Solutions members are U.S.-based nonprofit organizations or public agencies that are actively working on community land trusts, deed-restricted housing programs, limited-equity cooperatives, inclusionary housing programs or other long-term affordable housing programs in their community.
New policies and strategies for affordable housing and inclusive growth, or new combinations of policies and strategies, emerge every year. It can be a challenge to keep up. On top of that, every city and sometimes different parts of one city can be facing different situations with different potential solutions. The toolkit is designed to help sort out which solutions have been applicable to which situations — three situations, in broad strokes.
Is your housing already unaffordable? You may need to look first to preserve what’s left. Many subsidized affordable housing units have an expiration date, typically 15 or 30 years from being put into service. To add new affordable housing units, you may also want to consider inclusionary zoning. Then there’s also publicly owned land: The toolkit offers the example of D.C. government acquiring blighted land during the 1970s and 1980s, and making that land available to support mixed-income and 100 percent affordable housing. In 2014, D.C. adopted a new policy stipulating that housing built on public land must include at least 20 to 30 percent affordable housing, including units affordable to households earning 30 percent of area median income.
Is your city or neighborhood gentrifying right now? Consider how Chapel Hill, North Carolina, combined inclusionary zoning and a community land trust. Any new development of five or more units in Chapel Hill must include at least 15 percent affordable homeownership or rental units. The affordable portion of the development gets sold directly to a city-designated community land trust, ensuring long-term affordability for future generations of owners as well as today.
Is neighborhood blight and decline a problem? Consider a land bank. In 2013, Philadelphia City Council created a land bank to acquire vacant properties, clear them of city debts and unpaid back taxes, and streamline their eventual transfer to partners who can put them back into better use. As the toolkit explains, in order to address both present and future housing needs, half of all land bank parcels made available for residential uses need to support long-term affordability for low- and extremely low-income households, while the rest can support market-rate or higher-income housing.
The real-world examples above accompany each situation, and each “tool” also has real-world case studies. The PDF and online versions of the toolkit offer links directly to case studies and other resources.
Segregation and racial exclusion had a manual, literally. What if inclusion and racial integration had one too?
Oscar is Next City's senior economics correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha, and Fast Company.