Housing advocates call for changes to struggling Inclusionary Zoning Program

It’s been eight years since the city passed its signature legislation requiring an affordable component in new residential buildings, and six years since the program took effect. Yet so far, inclusionary zoning has yet to produce many housing units that are actually affordable to low-income residents. Through 2013, the program created just 30 IZ units, of which 28 were for moderate-income households and only two were for low-income households.

These unimpressive numbers led the city to implement several administrative fixes in November to speed along the process. But housing advocates want to go a step further.

Today, a group of leading advocates sent a letter to the Zoning Commission proposing a number of actions to boost both the production of IZ units and the proportion of them that are available to truly poor residents.

Under the IZ program, developers of new buildings containing at least 10 units must set aside between 8 and 10 percent of those units for people making under certain income thresholds. The trouble is that for most of those IZ units, the threshold is 80 percent of area median income, a measure that includes the wealthy suburbs. For a family of four, 80 percent of AMI comes out to about $86,000 a year; for a two-person household, it’s nearly $70,000, more than the District’s median household income of $64,000. That’s the category for which nearly all of the IZ units built through 2013 were set aside. The remaining two were reserved for households making less than half of AMI.

The signatories on today’s letter want to change that formula. The 80 percent threshold, they say, should be reduced to 70 percent for ownership housing and 50 percent for rental housing. The IZ set-aside should increase slightly, from 8 to 10 percent of units up to 10 to 12 percent, depending on the building type. And the units should be priced slightly lower—pegged to 25 percent of the household’s income rather than 30 percent—to ensure that they’re actually affordable to families or individuals who qualify to occupy them.

While the Zoning Commission would have to approve any changes to the program, the signatories also called on new Mayor Muriel Bowser to take steps to bolster IZ. The organizations signing on to the letter include the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the local AFL-CIO affiliate, City First Homes, and PolicyLink.

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