By Lilo Blank
Gentrification is highly contentious as it transforms neighborhoods from low to high value. A National Community Reinvestment Coalition study shows that gentrification and subsequent displacement has increased in urban areas within the last decade, with black and Hispanic residents among the most affected. Proponents of gentrifying neighborhoods point to the economic benefits for communities and potentially improved physical and mental health in adults and longitudinal educational success and monetary attainment for residents – emphasis on “potential.” Opponents point to the negative social and health outcomes for lower socio-economic residents, such as forced displacement of established residents and systemic socio-economic discrimination. Gentrification is a phenomenon of class interest and vulnerable minorities, such as black and Hispanic communities, are more likely to experience structural violence associated with socio-economic status than white counterparts. For those who avoid displacement, the CDC describes reduced access to healthy food, health care, recreation, and social networks as possible financial health consequences of gentrification. To combat negative effects, policy makers are taking a residential housing approach to improve community outcomes.
Inclusionary zoning (IZ) laws are one such approach, and are intended to create affordable housing through collaboration between public and private developers. These laws create requirements and incentives for developers, such as unit size minimums and establishing income eligibility criteria. IZ laws counter preceding ‘exclusionary zoning’ policy where large-lot zoning is used to prevent low-income integration into rising developments. Contrary to the original intent, IZ laws have been criticized for creating potential financial disincentives to develop in low-income areas and increasing housing price inflation.
To combat this risk, states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California have added additional incentives such as density bonuses, expedited approvals, and fee waivers. These have been presented to developers as part of state ordinances and regulations. Under its Affordable Housing Act, Illinois seeks to create grants, mortgages, and loans to rehabilitate, develop, operate, and maintain housing for low-income and very-low-income families. The Act requires local governments to create affordable housing plans based upon their municipalities’ median incomes. For example, based upon population median incomes and housing values, the town of Evanston, Illinois is required to provide 4,993 affordable housing units to accommodate its population of 75,472 who have an area median income of $63,327.
The Cook County Health Department in Illinois just published a dataset to LawAtlas.org as part of a yearlong legal epidemiology project funded by the CDC Public Health Law Program and ChangeLab Solutions. The health department created a policy surveillance dataset tracking IZ laws in 10 municipalities across the country, concentrating on residential areas around Cook County and the Chicago Metropolitan area: Boulder, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Evanston, Illinois; Highland Park-Lake County, Illinois; Irvine, California; Lake Forest-Lake County, Illinois; San Diego, California; Santa Fe, California; Stamford, Connecticut.
One common provision of IZ policies are set-asides. These are ordinances that require developers to reserve a portion of the new development for low-income residents. Through its policy surveillance project, the health department found that nine of the jurisdictions have implemented mandatory IZ policies and six jurisdictions have established preferences for who can live in set-aside units. The percentage of set-aside required for low-income housing varies by jurisdiction – from 10 percent in two jurisdictions, up to 25 percent in one. Of the 10 jurisdictions studied, one (Stamford, Connecticut) doesn’t require any set-aside, and nine allow for alternatives to set-asides, such as fee-in-lieu (nine jurisdictions), land dedication (six jurisdictions), and alternative proposals (four jurisdictions). For those jurisdictions with fee-in-lieu alternatives, seven provide those payments to Affordable Housing Funds.
While extensive literature provides evidence for a positive association between levels of wealth in an area and the levels of health in that area, more research is needed to establish the efficacy of IZ laws. Governments are increasingly implementing relevant policies to combat the negative effects of gentrification and IZ policies could be part of the mix, particularly when used in conjunction with efforts to preserve existing community culture beyond property interest, as neighborhoods provide important social support networks for residents. “Revitalization without displacement” is a rising standard for preserving the positive economic benefits of gentrification without destroying communities through displacement. This policy advocates increasing the total population by filling vacancies and increasing housing densities and preserving community bonds. Experts consider ‘social mix’ to be a common good.
The ten policies in this dataset are just the tip of the iceberg, but they do offer an interesting, important look into the complexity and variation of these laws.
You can explore the Cook County Inclusionary Zoning dataset by visiting LawAtlas.org.
Lilo Blank is the summer communications intern for the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research. She is a student at the University of Rochester.