Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Inclusionary Zoning: A Crucial Tool for Seattle’s Next Mayor to Address the Housing Crisis

Ed Murray appears poised for victory in Seattle’s mayoral election. As KPLU reporter Ashley Gross asserted in a recent story, Seattle’s new mayor will be challenged to address an affordable housing crisis in the city.

The challenge is a big one: Seattle is one of the top ten metro areas in the nation with the most dramatic increases in rental costs in 2012, and homelessness in the city is also on the rise.

At the same time Seattle is a city segregated by both race and income. In order to effectively address the segregation of opportunity that lies within Seattle’s housing crisis, inclusionary zoning is an important tool that must be on the table.

Inclusionary zoning arose out of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders advocated for inclusionary zoning as a housing policy to fight racial segregation and the economic attack on communities of color in the United States. But they weren’t just concerned about housing. They sought to ensure that people of color had the opportunity to share in the benefits of living in high opportunity neighborhoods, like strong schools, access to good jobs and safe streets and sidewalks.

Communities fought a long and uphill battle to win inclusionary zoning. One suburb Mt. Laurel in New Jersey fought particularly long and in the face of racism and marginalization by local government. But today, the fruits of their organizing have resulted in measurable outcomes for the families that eventually were able to live in this high opportunity suburb. A recent NY Times article profiled their experience and the work of Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey to compare the outcomes of families that were able to live in Mt. Laurel versus families that were constricted to low-income redlined neighborhoods.

Their recent book found that Mt. Laurel families have more economic success and their kids are doing better in school than families not able to afford the neighborhood. “Two-thirds are working, compared with just over half of the nonresidents, and a third as many, 4 percent, are on welfare. The sizable earnings gap, $19,687 versus $12,912 from wages, helps push the tenants living in the new housing out of poverty. The longer they stay in Mount Laurel, the better jobs they get and the more economically independent they become.”

The children of families living in Mt. Laurel, “study twice as many hours and spend more time reading.”

Inclusionary zoning creates these types of outcomes because it begins to dismantle barriers to affordable housing and then shares the benefits of high investment neighborhoods with families and households that have been historically shut out from opportunity. “I would go as far as to argue that what is truly American is not so much the individual but neighborhood inequality,” concludes the Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson in his landmark 2012 book, “Great American City.”

It is time for Seattle to address the segregation of opportunity in our city and our elected leaders will need this valuable policy tool.

Comments are closed.