Our Take: Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning Not a Solution to Racial Isolation

The following opinion piece ran in the Charlotte Observer on Thursday, September 10th, in response to an earlier column by Eric Frazier asking whether City Council had the courage to adopt an Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance:

Eric Frazier’s column challenges the Charlotte City Council to show the “political courage” to join the governments of Davidson and Chapel Hill in adopting an ordinance that would require housing developers to include affordable units in all new neighborhoods and apartment communities. But Charlotte’s affordable housing challenge doesn’t require courage – it requires wisdom, and an understanding of what is, and is NOT permitted under state law.

Let’s address the last part first. North Carolina has never granted local governments the statutory authority to adopt mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinances. Only a handful of local governments have flaunted this lack of authority, and Davidson recently dialed back its program after settling a lawsuit filed by a local developer. The Town Board of Commissioners wisely decided to not let the program be challenged in court, where it would have, in all likelihood, been struck down.

But aside from being illegal, inclusionary zoning is simply bad public policy. It exacerbates the affordability problem by artificially raising the price of all new housing. Rather than equitably spreading the costs of addressing this problem across the entire community through public housing programs or reduced regulation, it forces new tenants and homebuyers to subsidize their neighbors.

Like most fast-growing cities, Charlotte is quickly developing a deficit of affordable housing. But there are ways to address this challenge without imposing yet another regulatory burden on the building industry or giving newcomers to Charlotte one more reason to buy or rent outside the city limits.

In 2007, a group of over 400 community leaders convened a task force to study the issue of affordable housing. The group concluded that mandatory inclusionary housing was ineffective and has actually produced very few affordable units across the country.

But the 2007 task force did make several recommendations that they believe would work for Charlotte. Some, like the creation of a voluntary incentive-based inclusionary housing program, have already been adopted. But other programs, like the use of city, county and school board sites for affordable housing construction, have yet to be acted upon. You can review the recommendations at our website: http://www.REBIC.com.

No single policy recommendation is a silver bullet that will solve the affordable housing problem all growing cities experience. But each one brings something to the solution, and it may be time to revisit how they can begin to alleviate Charlotte’s affordable housing problem. Regardless, mandatory inclusionary zoning is not the answer.

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