Within the last decade, the importance and appeal of mixed-income neighborhoods has become evident in cities nationwide. Baltimore is not alone in seeking more economically diverse neighborhoods, as the nation’s largest cities have begun to engage, or continue to engage, in this strategy for urban equity. According to a recent Urban Land article by Patricia Kirk, Los Angeles and New York are leading the renewal of this approach.
New York City, in particular, is no newcomer to the concept of mixed-income housing. Alex Schwartz and Kian Tajbakhsh state in their Cityscape article that “in New York City, mixed-income housing has long been a way of life as a result of rent regulation and public housing management that selected relatively higher income families from the public housing waiting list.” The city and current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, have worked to ensure that this tradition is conserved and expanded.
In 2005, an inclusionary zoning decree was put into practice that requires market-rate housing developers to satisfy one of two options. The first is to commit a percentage of their units to being affordable residences, and the other is to pay a fee into an affordable housing fund.
Four years later in 2009, a goal of 160,000 affordable inclusionary units through 2014 was set by Mayor Bloomberg. He also made plans to expand inclusionary zoning to mid-rise buildings and the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx. 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, the historical equity and standards of living are not quite the same.
Los Angeles is a city, like many, that has historically had its sections of glamour, and its sections of gloom. For years, Los Angeles has been referred to as the “gang capital of America.” City-Data.com recorded that in 2011, 63% of single or unmarried city residents below the poverty level did not work even part time. City-Data’s listing also shows that only less than 1% of residents below the poverty level owned homes or condos.
The city is now relying on California’s Density Bonus Law to develop inclusionary housing. This requires the city to grant a density bonus – an incentive tool offering developers the freeedom to exceed the maximum density of housing units if they construct a certain percentage of housing units affordable to lower-income citizens.
In support of the California Density Bonus Law, Percy Vaz, CEO of Los Angeles–based AMCAL Multi-Housing Inc. said: “We think mixed-income housing works well with the right incentives, subsidies, and execution.”
Angelina Glover Blackwell, Founder of PolicyLink, recently stated that the federal government must “create neighborhoods of choice for low-income people.” On June 19, 2007 the city of Baltimore took a promising step in doing just that when the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance was passed. The law ensures that as new developments are built in Baltimore, there will be affordable homes in healthy, promising, mixed-income communities.
The Baltimore law was originally arranged to sunset June 2012, but due to the work of CPHA and the rest of Baltimore City’s Inclusive Housing Collaboration, the sunset is now extended to June 2020.
Baltimore should now look to set production goals similar to New York’s in 2009. Usually, productivity follows a concrete goal, and it is vital that the city provide incentives for developers to include affordable units in their market rate developments. Establishing production goals, and creating these mixed-income neighborhoods is a critical step towards fair housing in Baltimore.