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By Chelsey Jersak

Excerpt from Curb 6.1. “Homelessness: Social Equity in the City”

Already brimming with museums and monuments, these days Washington DC is filling up with another kind of amenity: people. Sitting at nearly 660,000 residents, the District has experienced a population surge of 15% since 2000. “A big change in the city occurred,” notes Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, “the city—having declined in population for decades—turned around and started to grow, and grow rapidly.”

The population growth in the early 2000s resulted in increased demand for housing and caused a drop in housing affordability. In response, a coalition of community groups joined forces in 2003 to encourage the City to expand its affordable housing options and adopt a mandatory inclusionary zoning program. The coalition ultimately saw its goal fulfilled: in 2011 the inclusionary zoning program delivered its first affordable units, and by 2014 nearly five hundred affordable units were in the pipeline.

WHAT IS INCLUSIONARY ZONING?

Inclusionary zoning is an affordable housing tool that requires developers of new housing to provide a portion of new dwelling units at an affordable rate, in return for compensation that offsets the cost of supplying the units. In the District of Columbia, the compensation is up to 20% additional density, but the compensation could also be variances to zoning requirements or expedited approvals—in short, anything that creates value for the developer equal to the incurred cost of supplying the affordable units.

THE ALBERTA CONTEXT

“Inclusionary zoning is a tool to leverage activity in the private development sector to produce affordable housing. While the extent to which this tool can be used in Alberta is currently limited, changes to the Municipal Government Act could have significant impact on the affordable housing landscape in the province.”

Chelsey Jersak is a professional planner from Alberta who spent a year living in Washington DC. She wishes to acknowledge the support of Jeneane S. Grundberg (Partner, Brownlee LLP) for reviewing the legal issues in this article.

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