Inclusionary housing: a legitimate response to rising segregation

By the Vol. 21 Associate Editorial Staff

America’s cities remain highly segregated along both class and racial lines. According to a recent study, between 1970 and 2010, segregation rose within metropolitan areas among school districts. Segregation by family income rose by roughly 20 percent when looking only at families with children enrolled in public schools. Public school families now reside in more economically homogeneous school districts today than in the past.

One solution is inclusionary housing. The policy requires that developers provide a share of new construction that are affordable to people with low to moderate incomes. It can be used to reduce economic segregation at a time when neighborhoods are gentrifying across the United States. According to a report published last month by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, over 500 communities have used inclusionary housing policies to maintain housing diversity and combat segregation.

State and federal courts have systematically upheld inclusionary zoning measures, and they have been adopted by jurisdictions throughout the United States.  The California Supreme Court recently reviewed a San Jose ordinance requiring developers of residential projects to set aside 15 percent of on-site for-sale units as affordable if they had 20 or more new, additional, or modified dwelling units.*   The court unanimously held that the law was “constitutionally legitimate” in its means of both increasing the number of affordable housing units and assuring their relative distribution throughout the city.

Despite favorable court rulings and the potential of inclusionary zoning to integrate U.S. cities, most programs have only been implemented in the past ten years, and many of the communities that could benefit most from the policy have yet to adopt it, according to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy report.  Clearly, the problems of segregation extend far beyond what inclusionary housing has to offer. Nonetheless, it is a promising tool to combat the ill effects of segregation—one of the most significant forces behind inequality in the United States today.

*Cal. Bldg. Indus. Assn. v. City of San Jose, 61 Cal. 4th 435 (2015).