Issue #149, Spring 2007
A Winning Campaign
Housing advocates in Washington, D.C., marshaled four strategies for achieving inclusionary-zoning policies designed to protect affordability in a rapidly gentrifying city.
By Radhika Fox
When Pocahantas Outlaw looks around her Capitol
Hill neighborhood in Washington, D.C., she is overwhelmed by the rapid
change she sees. "It's as if every morning a new building is going
up," she says. "I can't keep track anymore. Prices are skyrocketing,
new people are moving in and long-time residents are being pushed out."
According to Outlaw, a former board member of D.C.
ACORN, residents living in the district's Capitol Hill and Columbia
Heights/ Shaw neighborhoods have seen their property-tax assessments
double as $750,000 luxury condos sprout up. This tale is becoming more
common all across the nation's capital.
Washington, D.C., is at the forefront of older
cities that are experiencing a resurgence of economic investment and
is emblematic of a new era of urban growth that is producing robust
central-city revitalization after decades of decline. But Washington's
lower-income residents now face the possibility that they will be victims
of the city's success, as economic prosperity increasingly has threatened
Around the country, community advocates are using inclusionary zoning as a mechanism to redress gentrification's negative fallout for neighborhoods and to protect housing affordability. In late 2006, Washington joined the growing list of cities and counties that have adopted inclusionary-zoning policies. It was the culmination of a complex, three-year effort spearheaded by a diverse, community-driven coalition of more than 50 groups.
It Was the Right Moment
Then-Mayor Anthony Williams had set an ambitious goal of increasing
the district's population by 100,000 in 10 years, primarily to increase
the tax base and strengthen the district's fiscal health. This goal
begged the question: What about families currently living there? What
would happen to them?
There was growing momentum for affordable-housing advocacy and inclusionary
zoning in many communities. The Affordable Housing Alliance - a coalition
of housing advocates, tenants, homeless families and developers working
together for affordable housing especially for low-income residents
- had been successful in getting the district's long-defunct housing
trust fund fully funded to the tune of $22 million. It had also formed
a working group to analyze inclusionary zoning. The local ACORN chapter
was collaborating with the Metropolitan
Washington Labor Council-AFL-CIO and DC Agenda to educate community
residents about the benefits of inclusionary zoning. The D.C. Office
of Planning had formed a task force to consider adopting a voluntary,
incentive-based, inclusionary-zoning policy. To capitalize on these
various efforts, a broad spectrum of community groups from around the
district decided to form the
DC Campaign for Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (CMIZ).
The CMIZ advocates had two things in their favor: political momentum and fortuitous timing. And they succeeded in channeling them into tangible change through four crucial strategies: fostering community engagement in the policy process, building a strong coalition, navigating a tough political climate and committing to the long haul.
Fostering Community Engagement
The CMIZ was different. From the beginning, the bargaining table not
only included housing and land-use policy experts, but also residents
from grassroots organizing groups like ACORN and Empower
DC. The active involvement of these lower-income residents-who were
threatened by rising rents, increased property-tax assessments and displacement
pressures-led to the development of a stronger and more equitable ordinance.
Community residents were involved in the discussions about the income-targeting
guidelines that were to be included in Washington's inclusionary-zoning
policy. Few jurisdictions around the country have asked developers to
target incomes below 50 percent of the AMI (area median income). But,
because residents who had incomes well below 50 percent of the AMI were
at the negotiating table, the coalition developed creative solutions
for the income-targeting component of the policy.
The end result: The district's inclusionary-zoning policy requires that half of the units be built at 50 percent of the AMI and half at 80 percent of the AMI, except for high-rise development in mixed-use commercial zones where all units will be at 80 percent of the AMI. To reach deeper levels of affordability, the housing authority or a third party (including a community land trust or another qualified nonprofit organization) can purchase up to 25 percent of inclusionary units for the purpose of renting them to lower-income households. (This strategy has been successful in Montgomery County, Md. Indeed, because IZ program there initially required only short-term affordability for its inclusionary units, the only units that remained affordable after thousands of IZ units had been lost to the market were those that had been purchased by the local PHA.)
Building a Strong Coalition
The diversity of the DC Campaign for Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning
was impressive. The organizations, all active and engaged, represented
different interests and populations. For example, the Metropolitan Washington
Labor Council, AFL-CIO-which represents more than 50,000 residents in
the region-was one of the earliest coalition members.
It was important for Jos Williams, president of the Labor Council,
to be involved in a sustained and visible way. "Labor can have
all the success in the world at the bargaining table, but unless our
members can find a quality home for their families, are they really
more economically secure? Have we fulfilled the vision of the labor
movement?" he asks. "While housing wasn't the traditional
domain of our organizing, as labor leaders we had to get engaged. We
couldn't stay silent on the issue of affordable housing."
One of the premier smart-growth organizations in the region, the Washington
Regional Network for Livable Communities (now the Coalition
for Smarter Growth), was also deeply invested in the passage of
the inclusionary-zoning policy. According to Stephen Wade, program associate
for the organization, "We see inclusionary zoning as a fundamental
piece of a regional smart-growth strategy-it encourages balanced housing
choices at a range of income levels, and in the case of the policy we
won in D.C., it provides housing opportunities in growth areas of the
city that would have previously only offered housing affordable to the
So how was such a diverse and committed coalition established? It happened
partly because coalition members established core values and ground
rules up front and prioritized goals and step-by-step plans to achieve
them. One fundamental goal was that the IZ policy be mandatory for all
developments above 10 units, despite political pressure to implement
a voluntary, incentive-driven approach.
CMIZ members were also honest in assessing their relative strengths. This led to the development of a highly effective political strategy where some members were able to work with the office of planning and the zoning commission and city council members. Other members were skilled in getting people out for meetings or engaging the media by holding press conferences and writing letters to newspaper editors. This kind of coalition bench strength was essential to winning the inclusionary-zoning policy.
Navigating a Tough Climate
Coalition members and other nonprofits vigorously debated how to strike
this balance. It was ultimately decided that each inclusionary-zoning
unit will have a lifetime affordability control while also creating
an opportunity for homeowners to build savings and wealth. IZ homeowners
will build assets by benefiting from mortgage-related tax deductions
and by recouping their down payment and payments made toward principal,
the value of home improvements and a portion of the home's appreciation
based on an established formula.
Bob Pohlman, with the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, says "We need to recognize that wealth-building for today's low-income homebuyers and preservation of affordability for tomorrow's low-income homebuyers are both important. The compromise struck in the district's policy takes this into account."
Technical Savvy and Organizing
It was equally important that coalition members were skilled at organizing and building power. Coalition members such as Jews United for Justice, Affordable Housing Alliance, Jobs with Justice and the Labor Council hosted numerous press conferences, political actions and other advocacy events that punctuated pivotal moments of the campaign effort. Roberta Hantgan with Jews United for Justice says, "The faith community has an important role to play in educating and mobilizing our constituents to support important housing campaigns. The interfaith participation in the D.C. inclusionary-zoning effort brought an important, and much needed, moral dimension to highly technical discussions about zoning."
For instance, in the district, the zoning commission ruled on the broad
parameters of the policy, but it was the city council that decided such
issues as who would administer the policy and how income targets would
be established and enforced. Consequently, just as the zoning commission
concluded its deliberations, the campaign shifted its advocacy and organizing
energies to the city council, thus ensuring that key tenets of the inclusionary-zoning
policy weren't compromised.
Linda Cropp, chairman of the D.C. City Council, championed political support for inclusionary zoning. "We adopted mandatory inclusionary zoning in order to ensure continued diversity of economic levels in the city. We believe that inclusionary zoning can help maintain this diversity through the provision of affordable housing," Cropp says. Now that the city council legislation has passed, attention is shifting to the D.C. Office of Planning, as it develops and implements workable inclusionary-zoning practices in the city.
The campaign for inclusionary zoning in Washington had a little bit
of everything: racial and economic politics, a roaring housing market
and plenty of bureaucratic hurdles. But in the end, the strengths of
a strong, cohesive, goal-oriented coalition were able to overcome all
these challenges. And it will be the working families of our nation's
capital that will reap the rewards.
Radhika Fox is an associate director at PolicyLink, a national research institute that works to develop and implement local, state and federal policies to achieve economic and social equity. PolicyLink was a member of the DC Campaign.
Inclusionary zoning (IZ) requires that a percentage of housing
units in new residential developments be rented or sold for prices
that are affordable to low- and moderate-income households. In exchange
for providing this affordably priced housing, developers are occasionally
granted density bonuses (allowing more houses per lot), zoning variances
(forgiving parking requirements or other exceptions) and/or expedited
permitting (reducing costs by helping a project move more quickly).
These regulatory concessions help to offset the developers' cost
of renting or selling 10 or 20 percent, or some other mandated percentage
of their newly constructed units for a below-market price. Since
inclusionary units are integrated with market-rate units, IZ ensures
not only the production of affordable units, but also the spatial
distribution of affordable units across a jurisdiction.
Various phenomena in the housing market can spark a community's
interest in inclusionary zoning: rapidly escalating housing prices
leading to displacement of lower-income residents (as was the case
in Washington, D.C.); rezoning of major swaths of land from industrial/manufacturing
to housing/commercial (as is underway in New York City); the incorporation
of new land (as is the case in Sacramento); or, more recently, massive
rebuilding of destroyed homes after natural disasters (as is occurring
in New Orleans). Inclusionary zoning can become a central component
of a community's affordable-housing toolbox, because it can help
meet multiple housing goals, including: