Housing for All pushing for inclusionary zoning

Published 9:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2017

This is another in a series of stories the EAGLE will be publishing throughout the year in regards to the lack of affordable housing issue in Oxford and Lafayette County.

As local citizens became increasingly aware of Oxford’s growing housing insecurity issues for the city’s working class, groups of people have come together looking for ways they can help. Some have discussed donating land or money to build more affordable housing while other existing groups continue the work they’ve been doing for years, like Habitat for Humanity and Doors of Hope.

One group has focused their efforts on changing the city and county’s ordinances and policies to help provide more affordable housing.

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Housing for All formed a year ago out of the McLean Institute’s Summit to End Homelessness. The group now has about 30 members.

“We didn’t want to duplicate efforts, nor did we imagine doing any development ourselves,” said Housing for All member Rebecca Marchiel. “The conversations we were having leaned toward policy instead. So our group decided to define ourselves as an advocacy organization that will identify and push for local policies and programs that can advance our mission.”

The group’s first advocacy campaign is focusing on the city implementing inclusionary zoning in the city that would offer developers incentives to build affordable housing.

According to information provided by Housing for All, inclusionary zoning is a market-based strategy that leverages private sector development to promote the construction of additional affordable housing units. Under inclusionary zoning policies, the production of affordable housing is a byproduct of market rate housing development. This is facilitated by offering incentives such as a density bonus or expedited permitting for developers who set aside a certain number of affordable housing units. Under such a framework, teachers and police officers can live in the same neighborhood as doctors and lawyers without being unduly burdened by housing costs.

More than 200 communities in several states across the United States have some sort of inclusionary zoning provision, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.

While some states and/or communities have made inclusionary zoning mandatory, most have made it voluntary with incentives for builders to opt-in.

Generally, inclusionary zoning involves a developer to build a certain percentage of units that would be more affordable than the rest of the housing being built. For example, if a developer is building 100 homes, if the inclusionary zoning policy mandated 10 percent of units to be more affordable, the developer would build at least 10 homes that could be purchased by residents earning near Lafayette County’s median household income of $44,643, which would be a home that costs about $180,000.

Inclusionary zoning would allow local governing boards to combine policies such as density bonuses, expedited development approval, fee waivers, and other incentives.

Another tool of inclusionary zoning could be creating an affordable housing trust fund where developers would elect to pay into the fund rather than building more affordable units.

“The specifics of how Oxford might choose to design an inclusionary zoning ordinance would have to be hammered out because there are several carrots and sticks that we could incorporate into an ordinance, but one tool in the inclusionary zoning toolkit does indeed include incentives for developers to build below-market-rate units whenever they build new market units,” Marchiel said.

Marchiel said Housing for All has begun sending out information to Oxford aldermen and candidates running for aldermen in the June election and have had conversations with City Planner Judy Daniel, who said inclusionary zoning is a common tool used around the country to address housing insecurity.

“We look forward to working toward having more options for affordable housing,” Daniel said recently. “There’s a lot of potential for different ways to address this.”

The Vision 2037 plan, adopted last year, mentions inclusionary zoning as one option to have more affordable housing in Oxford. Daniel said the Planning Department is currently finishing up the Land Development Code to meet the goals of the Vision 2037 plan.

“We need to get the code finished first, then we can start implementing other aspects,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with the community and the Board of Aldermen on the variety of options to consider.”