Fenty Administration Implements Long-Awaited Inclusionary Zoning – The 2006 Affordable Housing Law

D.C.’s affordable housing toolbox got a little bigger today.  The Fenty administration has taken the last step needed to implement DC’s “Inclusionary Zoning” law, which was adopted by the Zoning Commission and D.C. Council in 2006.  With publication of the final part of the regulations, the city can move forward with a national best practice that ensures that market-rate housing developments also have an affordable housing component.

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is a widely used affordable housing tool throughout the country. D.C. joins hundreds of other jurisdictions –  including Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington Counties –  that have adopted IZ  to help respond to their communities’ affordable housing needs.

D.C.’s IZ program requires residential developments of 10 units or more to set aside 8-10 percent of the new housing as affordable to moderate and low income families – those  making between 50 percent and 80 percent of area median income.  For a family of four, that means income between $51,000 and $82,000.   In exchange, the developer is allowed to build 20 percent more housing than under normal zoning rules.  This tradeoff allows the District to get new affordable housing without having to devote any tax resources.  IZ will apply to most areas in the District with a few exceptions for the lowest density residential zones, and some Historic districts that were deemed inappropriate to receive the density bonus.

Inclusionary Zoning couldn’t come at a more critical time. As a result of the economic downturn, reduced tax revenues, and resulting budget cuts, affordable housing programs in the District have seen a dramatic drop in funding. In fact, total resources for affordable housing have dropped by one-third since the start of FY 2009.  Yet, the economic downturn also means more D.C. residents need affordable housing.

A wide variety of financing and development tools are crucial for any community to be able to meet the range of affordable housing needs of its residents.  It is particularly crucial in an area like DC where the cost of living is very high.  IZ will be a central development tool to help the District offer a meaningful supply of affordable housing opportunities in the years to come, particularly as the housing market – and the economy – begin to recover.

The Campaign for Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning launched its effort to bring the national best practice to the city in 2004.  The Campaign for Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning is a diverse coalition of affordable housing advocates, local labor unions, social service providers, civic associations, and faith-based organizations. These stakeholders across the District worked together for years to design the policy.  They should feel elated that their dream has finally become a reality.