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Matt Singer on December 7, 2006 - 9:28am
Thursday, December 07, 2006
In Today's Dispatch:
MD: Zoning a Path to Affordable Housing
The Baltimore City Council is considering a bill that would require developers to include affordable housing units in all of Baltimore's residential projects. Under the proposal, up to 20 percent of all housing units would be reserved for low to moderate income people. Baltimore is not the first city in Maryland to consider such a proposal. Montgomery County, MD, in an effort to combat the loss of affordable housing, requires between 12.5 and 15 percent of the total units in every new subdivision or high-rise building be sold or rented at specified, affordable prices.
Passed in 1974, Montgomery County is the leading example of mandatory inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning aims to increase the availability of affordable housing by requiring developers to make a percentage of housing units in new residential developments available to low and moderate income households. In return, developers receive non-monetary compensation, such as zoning variances, expedited permits, or density bonuses that can reduce the cost of construction.
Inclusionary zoning ordinances have produced over 11,000 affordable units in the Greater Washington D.C. metropolitan region. Furthermore, households from varied racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds have benefited from the inclusionary zoning programs. The programs have also successfully promoted economic integration with widespread placement of affordable units.
Several states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota, and California, have adopted legislation supporting inclusionary zoning. As of March 2003, a 30 year survey of inclusionary zoning policies in California found there were 107 cities and counties in California using inclusionary zoning. The study also found that of the inclusionary jurisdictions, 80 percent of them believe that the inclusionary program stimulated the production of affordable housing that would not have been built otherwise.
In New Jersey, a historic fight for affordable housing reached the state's Supreme Court. Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel and subsequent cases fought against the land use regulation in place in the Township of Mount Laurel on the grounds that low and moderate income families were unlawfully excluded from the municipality. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that municipalities may not, through a system of land regulation, make it physically and economically impossible to provide low and moderate income housing. In response to the Supreme Court's ruling, the legislature passed the New Jersey Fair Housing Act, which created the Council on Affordable Housing to establish regulations obliging each municipality to provide a specific number of affordable housing units. With the Fair Housing Act, New Jersey took an important and brave step to ensuring that people had access to affordable housing.
Massachusetts uses a combination of tools to promote affordable housing, including a precedent-setting statute that allows developers of affordable housing to sidestep zoning and all other local regulations. Nearly a third of all municipalities in MA have gone even further by adopting zoning provisions explicitly intended to promote affordable housing.
In Montana, cities facing massive growth from wealthy outsiders who squeeze workers out of local housing markets have begun to look to inclusionary zoning, with one local official rebranding it as "workforce zoning" because of the group of people it is intended to protect.
There has been resistance, however, in all of these locales by developers opposing further inclusionary zoning regulations. Not surprisingly, developers claim that inclusionary zoning prevents them from making money on affordable housing. This criticism appears weak under scrutiny, and, in fact, inclusionary zoning may actually help to accelerate development. A study by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest concluded that inclusionary zoning did not slow development and also cites a Bay Area Economic study that states housing projects within inclusionary zoning areas still maintained a 10 percent profit margin for the private developer.
Unsurprisingly, protecting workers who actually run a city and ensuring long-term economic balance within a local area actually strengthens communities.
US: The Sorry State of our Education Infrastructure
While conservatives obfuscate their support for No Child Left Behind (see today's Eye on the Right), a much more pressing issue faces America's education system: the state of school buildings and the physical infrastructure. In a new report from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union surveyed its own members to evaluate the state of school buildings. The result is "Building Minds, Minding Buildings: Turning Crumbling Schools Into Environments for Learning."
The findings are hardly novel -- the Society of Civil Engineers rates America's schools a "D" in terms of infrastructure -- but are still shocking. Problems range from public health threats -- rodent and roach infestations, asbestos, and broken bathrooms -- to pedagogical impediments -- temperature extremes, overcrowding, and dilapidated classrooms.
Even the most talented of teachers and interested of students will struggle in environments that are not conducive to learning. And school buildings that cause long-term health problems for small children because of a lack of investment in public infrastructure are indicative of a society that has become penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The AFT offers a number of proposals for federal, state, and community action to address the problem of school infrastructure, including:
SCHIP Shortfalls, the Economy Disconnect, and Suburban Poverty
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warns that 17 states will face federal funding shortages in critical SCHIP programs, with total shortfall across the states totaling nearly $1 billion.
A comprehensive look at how Americans think about the economy has led experts at the Economic Policy Institute to conclude that most Americans and elites are simply "Talking Past Each Other." Written by an economist, a pollster, and a speech writer, the new book offers insights to how most Americans view the economy and how policymakers can speak the language of the working American economy.
Think the uninsured choose to be? Some conservatives and free market advocates do. Debunking that myth, a new report published in Health Affairs shows that 81% of the uninsured are either eligible for public programs or need assistance to afford private coverage. The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and used data from the US Census 2005 Current Population Survey. Specifically, the report found that 25% of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP programs and 56% have incomes that make them ineligible for public programs but need assistance to afford private coverage.
According to new research at the Brookings Institution, poverty is fleeing to the suburbs, with the suburban poor now outnumbering the urban poor by at least 1 million people -- a massive change since 1999 when the two populations were roughly equal.
MD: Zoning a Path to Affordable Housing
PolicyLink, "Inclusionary Zoning -- Keys to Success"
Common Interest, "Inclusionary Housing in Montgomery County, MD"
National Housing Conference Affordable Housing Policy Review, "Inclusionary Zoning: the California Experience"
Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, "The Impact of Inclusionary Zoning on Development"
US: The Sorry State of our Education Infrastructure
Eye on the Right
With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continuing to draw pessimistic reviews from people on the ground, the right is now attempting to disown the measure, saying that the policy failed to implement a true conservative vision on education. The call for change comes from the Heritage Foundation, the media-centric mega-think tank of the right. In their call, they hint that a move away from NCLB is what is really preferred by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), America's rightwing network of state legislators, because NCLB is insufficiently federalist. In reality, ALEC was thanked by the Bush Administration for being "steadfast supporters" of the botched education bill. Forget federalism, when conservative thinking goes off the tracks, you can count on ALEC to go along for the ride.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
December 8-10, 2006 | Washington, DC | 10th Annual Summit on the States -- This Center for Policy Alternatives annual affair features over a dozen policy workshops and a number of other events for state legislators. Details.
December 11, 2006 | NYC | Making Prescription Drugs More Affordable -- This Drum Major Institute event features former Maine state senator Sharon Treat. After leaving Maine's senate, Treat became executive director of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a nonpartisan organization of state legislators working to reduce prescription drug prices and expand access. Details.
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