Is Inclusionary Zoning An Effective Strategy In Reversing Gentrification?

Do you want my honest opinion?

Let’s get into the details so you can make your own opinion.

If you’re an avid reader you know I like to start my posts off with definitions.

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ): An affordable housing tool that links the production of affordable housing to the production of market-rate housing. IZ policies either require or encourage new residential developments to make a certain percentage of the housing units affordable to low- or moderate- income residents. In exchange, many IZ programs provide cost offsets to developers, such as density bonuses that allow the developer to build more units than conventional zoning would allow, or fast-track permitting that allows developers to build more quickly.

To sum it up, IZ makes it easier for developers to include affordable housing units into their overly priced “luxury” housing units. The government does this through incentives. Incentivizing inclusion makes the process more attractive to developers. It is said that including more affordable housing into the mix causes developers to lose money. Most developers are entrepreneurs. They’re looking to get the best bang for their buck by any means necessary. They have families to feed too, but their monetary choices make it extremely difficult for a majority of the population to afford a place for their own families to even live. Thus the creation of incentives. The two discussed in the definition above are as follows:

Density Bonus: Allowing the developer to build more units than conventional zoning allows.

Zoning was created to prohibit wrongful uses of land. The U.S isn’t as densely populated and congested as countries like china because we have zoning laws in place. Allowing developers to build more units allows them to be able to make more money. Who doesn’t want that?

Fast-Track Permitting: Allow Developers to build more quickly.

Developing land/ building multifamily complexes is a very long process. From contracts, to design to construction it can take years to get a complex to full working capacity. As the saying goes, time is money. If the government helps speed up the process (during the paperwork/permitting process) the developer will be able to find other ways to cut costs.

Let’s talk about the benefits on inclusionary zoning.

According to New York University, School of Real Estate and Urban Policy, IZ was established in 1972. Over 300 cities, towns and counties have Inclusionary zoning in the books. The two main benefit arguments are:

Inclusionary Zoning promotes racial and economic integration. (Yay for equity based living strategies)

Because Inclusionary Zoning requires less public subsidy (money coming from the government to stay afloat) it is more fiscally sustainable. (Yay for not depending on the government)

On the flip side, others believe it’s not the developers job to create housing for all. They see inclusion as a burden. (hahaha we’re going to ignore these people and continue to live in our equity based community oriented utopia). Many studies compare the social need of IZ to the economic impact it has on the housing market.

Who wins?

At the end of the day people with money and people on the top of the totem pole have more power. The day our world switches from the money hierarchy to a more socialist ideal (if I had to compare a current ideology) is the day we may start to see gentrification melt away, but that won’t be today, or tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years…

Inclusionary zoning is not bad. It’s a minor strategy in a bigger problem that is affordable housing. There’s A LOT more to zoning laws and their impact on our society. I want you to develop your own opinion. If you’d like to know more information about IZ, housing markets and developing check out the links below.


Kimberly Rashad is a social equity and empathy motivated designer. Her design style focuses greatly on intentionality. When she’s not working with individuals, businesses and nonprofits around

the country she’s either hosting events for her local Alumni Chapter (SU ‘16) or cooking up something good in her apartment in Atlanta, GA. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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