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Op-Ed: Affordability Crisis Dwarfs Affordability Policies

Although the political optics are hard to see, Daniel Hertz argues that policies like inclusionary zoning need to be strengthened by orders of magnitude to have more than a token impact on housing affordability.
February 27, 2016, 1pm PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Few will argue with Daniel Hertz's basic premise: that major American cities face an affordability crisis with wide-ranging effects on economic mobility, race relations, homelessness, and our very conception of what urban life means. Hertz makes the case that current policies to encourage affordable development, while admirable, are embarrassingly under-powered.

In the face of massive deficits in the availability of affordable housing—for the middle as well as lower classes—"IZ needs to be reframed as not a centerpiece, but a minor part of an affordable housing agenda that actually serves everyone who needs help." That agenda might include measures like direct taxes on rising residential property values (to combat speculation) and funding Housing Choice Vouchers by dropping mortgage interest tax deductions for high-income homeowners.

Hertz concludes, "There is no way to argue that inclusionary zoning is coming close to meeting the demand for below-market housing—or, importantly, that it will ever be able to do so. A hundred and forty [affordable] units per year in San Francisco is not off by ten percent, or fifty percent, or even just one order of magnitude [...] The fact that IZ may be on the edge of what is politically possible today should not blind us to the fact that the cities and neighborhoods we envision require vastly more ambition."

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Published on Thursday, February 11, 2016 in City Observatory
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