Spotlight Exclusives

The Affordable Housing Debate Takes Center Stage in New York City

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a commitment to affordable housing a central aspect of his campaign. Earlier this month, his administration offered more details, announcing that developers would soon be required to build new affordable units in any housing development that requires city approval.

Finding affordable housing is a pressing challenge for middle- and low-income families. And the costs are especially prohibitive in many major cities. According to research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a full-time worker in Brooklyn would need to earn over $23 an hour to afford a moderately priced one-bedroom apartment. Recognizing similar challenges, local policymakers are searching for new ways to increase the availability of affordable housing.

In New York City, De Blasio۪s plan would greatly expand the Inclusionary Housing Program, which permits developers to build larger properties if a certain amount of new construction is permanently dedicated to affordable housing.

In part because it doesn۪t require public funding, inclusionary housing (also known as inclusionary zoning) has been a popular affordable housing policy in many cities. Housing expert Nicholas J. Brunick argues that it increases the availability of affordable housing and promotes economic integration without as some critics contend “any evidence of a negative impact on housing production.”

Inclusionary zoning, however, is controversial. While acknowledging the political attractiveness of the policy, New York Times columnist Josh Barro considers inclusionary zoning an unnecessary, circuitous route for promoting affordable housing. Barro contends that instead of mandating the inclusion of low-cost housing within luxury buildings, the city should simply tax developers for the privilege to build more densely and use the revenue to create more cost-effective affordable housing.

Despite this critique, Barro and others have also been quick to praise other efforts aimed at increasing the housing supply, applauding the de Blasio administration for working to loosen existing regulations to encourage more housing construction. Barro highlights the mayor۪s interest in repealing “a state law that sets a hard cap on the density of residential developments” and his desire to make it “easier to convert obsolete commercial buildings to residential use.”

Increasing development to drive down housing prices has found notable support on both the left and the right. Liberals such as Larry Summers and Matt Yglesias and the conservative Reihan Salam are all advocates. And in a February Spotlight commentary, Mark Calabria of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute stated that “few policy changes would improve the lives of poor, working, and middle-class households more than relaxing local regulatory barriers to housing construction.”

As finding affordable housing remains a challenge for many Americans, policymakers will no doubt continue to look for solutions. Spotlight will continue to monitor and lift up strategies to make housing more affordable for all.

Posted by Nadia
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