Changing Laws, Creating Financial Tools…

In chapter 16, “Hopeful Trends and Calls for Change,” I tell of my years of housing advocacy in my city of Pasadena, CA. You will read about how simply sitting down with a for-profit housing developer, ended up creating 97 units of housing for the very low income within luxury apartments in walking distance to stores, and a metro station. This is city planning at its best. The policy that created this opportunity is called inclusionary zoning (IZ), an ordinance which I also had a hand helping to create—an ordinance that has now produced over 480 units of affordable housing spread throughout the city, again an example of very smart growth. All accomplished with no government funding.
Some of these efforts can be simple, others can be complex and long-term, but all are worth the effort to house our most vulnerable residents and create the kind of cities that God expected—cities hospitable to all income levels. (Duet. 15, Lev. 15, Micah 5, Matthew 25)

A church or faith based nonprofit housing developer cannot do their work unless the many underlying aspects of development at are dealt with, for example, the proper zoning density, the land cost, community support to obtain approvals, permits that are not overly costly and a developer that can prove to the city they have the capacity and experience to do the deal.  Some would call these barriers, I call them opportunities. God loves the poor and is in the business of working out these details. I’ve had the joy of working with the Jewish Temple, other churches and many others committed to justice on these policies. This work is essential to help create affordable housing. This kind of work is God’s calling on my life.

It’s important to know that at present there are few if any no federal or state laws that require affordable housing, mostly incentives and funding sources tied to the requirement of affordable housing. We need to strengthen various state and local laws that move our country one step closer to addressing our nation’s housing crisis:

Here I am simply listing thirteen ways that you can create and strengthen policy so that more affordable housing can be in your community. These policies have worked successfully in communities and States across the US.
1. Inclusionary Zoning or Ordinances
(also called scattered housing policies).  Both cities and counties and even a state (like New Jersey) can have a required percentage set aside of affordable housing in any new developments. The ordinance in Pasadena requires that 15% of all new housing with 10 units or more, be set aside as affordable.

2. Density Bonus Laws: The reason inclusionary zoning works is due to density bonus lows. Developers gain additional density in their proposals if they include affordable units. It has been shown that developers are more likely to take advantage of this if it is required by an IZ ordinance. See: California’s SB 1818 See:
Concerns about density are well research by the Urban Land Institute. See their publication on the facts of higher density:
An older but equally relevant research on Myths and Facts is also valuable to note:

3. Minimize conflicting requirements. Some local ordinances and zoning can prevent affordable housing from being built.  One example, is the City of Gardens ordinance in Pasadena, California, prevents developers from maximizing density bonuses. Also when a city lowers the allowed density on properties, this too can completely end a project. I was part of a campaign to keep the zoning at 32 units per square acre along a transportation corridor—a very appropriate location for higher density, but we lost and it was changed to 16 units per acre. This density is too low to allow for our inclusionary housing ordnance to be applied.

4. Secondary Dwelling Unit Mandates— AB 1866 in California essentially rezoned the entire state, allowing all single family detached homes to build a second dwelling unit on their land in accordance with local land use requirements. This Mandate also gave cities the option to create a local ordinance to provide guidance, but not to prevent second unites from being built. Nevertheless, a number of cities passed laws that make it almost impossible for homeowners to build a second unit.  But some cities like Santa Cruz have incentivized this by allowing secondary dwelling units to almost any sized lot, accompanied by additional parking space, allowing units over garages. Homeowners are even given very low interest loans to hire locals to build the unit.

5. Condo Conversion Ordinances: Some cities today have an ordinance that protects renters when a landlord decides to convert their apartment to condos. Some ordinances require that the existing tenants have the first right of refusal to purchase the units. Some cities have considered keeping a percentage of the units available for existing lower income tenants by setting aside a percentage of the units as affordable. Most ordinances require a clear process of informing the tenants with sufficient time to relocate a long with relocation fees. Pasadena has a $5,000 relocation fee, LA’s is $20,000. See one example of Oakland’s ordinance:

6. Landlord Licensing: All businesses are must have a license, except for landlords. Investors can go into a community, buy up homes in bulk and change the character of a neighborhood from owner-occupied community to a renter occupied. Cities can have some control over this by requiring that any home that is rented be licensed. Additional rental conversion fees are can also be used (like in Minneapolis). This coupled with notifications to the neighborhood when a home is moved from owner occupied to rental. This policy gives cities a tool to enforce codes, deal with problem properties, add money to affordable housing trusts and have an idea of what their  housing stock looks like.  An article from Shelterforce Magazine gives a long list of incentives for landlords to do this tells how this has been successfully been done in cities. See:

7. Fast track approvals for Affordable Housing and Fee Waivers. Cities have won award for finding ways to encourage affordable housing. Timely approvals are essential so as not to lose these hard-won funding sources. Typically, in my city of Pasadena it runs up to $80,000 per unit in fees to get a unit built. This cost is prohibitive for an affordable housing developer. Waivers are part of cities committed to mix income smart growth.  See:

8. Tax Abatements. Cities like New York and others have allowed those in affordable home ownership units to being with no property tax and then incrementally increare their rate over a period of year. Some properties that are set aside for 100% affordable units have been removed from paying any taxes.
Many have suggested that Proposition 13 in California is no longer needed. They argue that the lack of supply of homes is pushing up home prices beyond the reach of most Californians, and that Prop 13 is now standing in the way of supply, and limiting the local tax base.

9. Adjust How Tax Credits are Allocated: In tandem with the above, work with the States and Federal policies to adjust how tax credits are utilized in a way that landlords who are already making their units affordable are rewarded. Tax Credits could help them improve their properties while retaining affordability. This could also enable them to gain access to ways to green their apartments as well to address both housing cost and environmental concerns.

10. Fair Share of Affordable Units: States like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Rhode Island are requiring that all cities in the state plan for a fair share of affordable units. Under these laws, cities across the nation are required to plan for sufficient housing for all income levels. But, these laws do not necessarily require that the city implement the plan. Yet we must strengthen such laws to be like that of Massachusetts. They went a step further and actually require that cities not just plan, but create additional affordable units if 10 percent of the housing stock is not yet set aside as affordable. We must study states like Massachusetts and New Jersey to learn what works and why, and determine what best practices might be considered for our states and cities. See pages 245-246 in Making Housing Happen.

11.  Create a Community Land Trust. There are many good examples of cities partnering with CLTs across the US, for example, the one in city of Irvine (  Another interesting model is South LA Trust (, which is addressing the mass displacement of community residents around the University of Southern California; all the units built on the on the Trust land remain permanently affordable—no ending of HUD Contacts (typically 20-45 years) and affordability covenants. A community land trust is similar to most inclusionary housing ordinances in that IZ units are typically permanently affordable, whether for sale or rental. Yet with a CLT, the onus of monitoring the units lies not with a city’s housing department, but with the CLT, which is governed by a board often comprising of several city council members, people living on the trust and some members from the community at large. City land banking can be placed in a trust. Over 200 cities in the US are helping to create or partnering with community land trusts.

12. Find ways to fully fund our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Create impact fees, recordation fees and other means to fund the city’s affordable housing trust fund, i.e. the land lord licensing mentioned above. See pages, 74-75 and 241-242 in Making Housing Happen. Also see “Setting the Stage: Community Organizing” page in this website to learn how 20 churches in Montgomery County, Maryland were able to persuade the county to create a dedicated permanent source for their affordable housing production trust fund by setting aside 2.5% of all property tax.

13. Rent Control. Contrary to what may have tried to prove, there is no research that indicates that rent control is bad for a community. On the contrary it has helped to house many who would otherwise be unable to afford housing. As in any policy and affordable housing there can and will be abuses, but these must be minimized and we must weight any abuse with the benefits. Please note pages 249-250 in Making Housing Happen to see a more full discussion. And to see an even more detailed discussion see Peter Dreier’s excellent articles: and,0,7707537.story

If you are aware of other ways that your community has been able to bring about a more equitable use of land and housing for all income levels, to create a healthier mixed-income community with walkable places and nearby jobs, please let me know.

Thanks! Jill Shook