Battles Continue After Zoning Reform is Adopted

A Philadelphia developer backs out on affordable housing agreed to under zoning reform, and Boston struggles with plans created under its policy formulas.

Amidst the national discussion on the pros and cons of adopting inclusionary zoning as an affordable housing tool, battles ensue even after zoning reform ordinances are adopted and private sector deals are completed.

The city of Boston is delaying rezoning plans for three months over concerns that housing costs would increase in a Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The Boston Redevelopment Authority has been reviewing the rezoning plans of several Boston neighborhoods targeted for development. Boston's Inclusionary Development Policy currently carves up the city into three districts that calculate affordable housing requirements using different formulas. Affordable housing advocates applaud the recent delay in Jamaica Plain as an opportunity to get a more inclusive rezoning plan in place.

In general with inclusionary zoning, municipalities can require developers to include affordable housing units in exchange for municipal concessions on things like property taxes, density, height restrictions and more. Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering a zoning reform bill that could potentially change housing development statewide, making it easier to increase density.

Critics everywhere argue that inclusionary zoning doesn't actually increase affordable housing. They say restrictions limit the housing supply, and drive up costs. A recent CityLab article, Inclusionary Zoning Does Not Drive Up Housing Costs, discussed recent research released by the National Housing Conference’s (NHC) Center for Housing Policy finding that in places with inclusionary zoning, there were not significant declines in overall housing production or increases in prices. However, NHC found that Boston has had trouble controlling housing costs despite its zoning reform policies.

But even when zoning is adopted, and deals with private developers are made, it doesn't mean affordable housing is created.

In what some are calling a bait and switch, the PMC Property Group that built a luxury tower in the Philadelphia waterfront is now reneging on a deal to include 25 affordable housing units. According to Inga Saffron of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the developer struck an inclusionary housing deal under the city's Mixed Income Zoning rule in 2014.

In exchange for a promise to incorporate the below-market rentals into the 250-unit building, the city gave PMC a 48-foot height bonus, allowing the developer to add nearly five floors - and 30 full-priced units - to the design," wrote Saffron.

Included in the deal was a 10-year property tax abatement. The city said that PMC can't renege without offering amenities of equal value--like retail or public art space, or a sizeable donation to the Housing Trust Fund--and it has to go through the permit process all over again. According to the local story, David Perri of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections said certificates of occupancy will be held up until that happens.

The completed building, and its one-bedroom units starting at $1,795 per month, will sit empty for the time being.

Affordable housing advocates in the City of Brotherly Love are fuming. Beth McConnell, policy director for the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, reportedly wrote to Mayor Jim Kenney that a PMC contribution to the Trust Fund should be $200,000 for each reneged unit--$5 million.

Read the original story on the website. 

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