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Anthony Gill
Housing and Homelessness Policy
Dr. Elsa Chen
10 June 2014
Implications of Land-Use Planning Strategies on Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing
INTRODUCTION: An Unfortunate Conflict…But Need There Be?
On March 10, 2013, residents of the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Community in San
Jose, California received one-day notice of a Planning Commission meeting which would
include a discussion of the so-called “Santana Row/Valley Fair Urban Village Plan” (“Save the
Winchester Ranch”). The plan was originally intended to unify urban planning efforts in the
vicinity of the popular Santana Row and Valley Fair upscale shopping centers. Instead, due to the
inclusion of the mobile home park, it has become a touchstone of sorts for the ongoing battle
over affordable housing and gentrification in the high-tech, high-income Silicon Valley region.
Understandably, residents, mostly low-income or disabled seniors, were livid. By
including the park in the urban village plan, the City of San José dramatically increased the value
of the property, virtually guaranteeing that it would be redeveloped. By July, the owner, Cali-
Arioto Properties, was in talks to sell to market-rate developer Pulte Homes, with the expectation
that the seniors would be evicted with little to no assistance in relocation (Bigler). Residents and
affordable housing advocates exerted more pressure, and by April of 2014, the city was
considering a moratorium on mobile home conversions to allow time to, according to Vice
Mayor Madison Nguyen, “ensure that…existing laws governing conversions are clear, up-to-
date, and adequate given the changing state of the economy” (Wadsworth).
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It was a small victory for residents of the park, but the battle illustrates a crucial real or
perceived conflict between new development and affordable housing. In other areas of the
country, similar controversies are playing out over mixed-income housing, inclusionary zoning,
and other land use issues. Residents and elected officials alike often lack sufficient knowledge
about urban planning best practices and ways to mitigate the negative impacts of development.
Even mixed-use urban village projects can be planned in such a way as to benefit low-income
and lower-income residents. But while land use regulation and mixed-use infill development do
pose significant opportunities for ameliorating the affordable housing dilemma currently facing
many cities, they come with their own set of of unique challenges that can make or break entire
projects—namely, uncoordinated local policies, community and neighborhood support, and
simple economics.
SECTION 1: The Problem with Sprawl
With the mass production of the automobile and the advent of freeways in the 1940s and
1950s, the urban areas of the United States underwent a massive expansion that resulted in the
modern American suburb. Unlike more traditional urban areas, these often far-flung “bedroom”
communities strictly distinguished between residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
Automobile use thus became a virtual prerequisite, necessitating wide freeways, multi-lane city
streets, and expansive surface parking lots for commercial centers. As regions grew, public
services, like water, sewer, police, and fire, were extended to newly-incorporated or -annexed
areas, increasing the burden on local governments and taxpayers, Before long, the suburbs had
become almost cripplingly expensive. Still, they proved quite popular with families, the middle-
class, and the wealthy.
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Over the past several decades, however, dense urban cities became increasingly popular
as younger college-educated professionals returned in droves for their wide array of
entertainment options and job opportunities. Cities could offer a tightly-packed living
environment with a lower per-capita cost, opportunities to walk, bike, and use transit to
commute, and enriching arts and culture activities. Moreover, thanks to their smart urban
planning and effective density balances, they could support a wider array of housing choices. In
response to these changing cultural attitudes, urban planners developed new zoning types, in
both cities and suburbs, to spur redevelopment and increase housing affordability.
“Mixed-use” or “urban village” designs became by far the most popular. According to the
American Planning Association, which represents the professional urban planning community,
mixed-use development blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and sometimes
even industrial uses. These types of projects “allow for greater housing variety and density,
strengthen neighborhood character, and promote pedestrian and bicycle-friendly
environments” (“Mixed Use Development”). By favoring denser, more tightly-packed
developments with large numbers of small units, urban planners argue that affordable housing
can become a more profitable enterprise. Planners envision these zones as becoming “mini-
downtowns” for neighborhoods, with community retail, housing, and often, city services, such as
libraries and public squares. In some cities, urban villages have been organized around university
campuses, medical districts, and office parks.
With prominent examples of mixed-use developments, such as Santana Row, catering to
the wealthy, it would be easy to dismiss the strategy as a non-solution. Surprisingly, however,
these concepts hold great promise for affordable housing advocates. With a large number of
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units, low-income and lower- to middle-income housing can indeed become more affordable
(Quigley 69). And with easy access, often by foot or transit, to jobs, healthcare, and other
essential services, dense, mixed-use urban villages might also provide an increased level of
upward mobility (Chetty, et al.). More innovative mixed-income housing models have utilized
mixed-use practices with an eye toward social mixing, in hopes of providing further benefit to
lower-income residents. As such, mixed-use and urban village development forms, as
incentivized by inclusionary zoning requirements, can offer unique and tangible benefits to even
the lowest-income residents. Of course, the primary challenge lies in the promotion of policies to
prioritize these types of equitable developments.
SECTION TWO: Promising Policy Prescriptions
In late 2013, protests erupted in San Francisco over the use of public transit stops by the
employee shuttles of Silicon Valley technology companies. The “Google bus protests” received
widespread national and international press attention as anti-gentrification activists and
affordable housing advocates engaged in mostly peaceful demonstrations against a perception of
growing income inequality in the city. Essentially, the protesters argued that the Google buses
compound the problem by making San Francisco a more desirable home for tech workers than
cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose, which lie closer to their jobs but also lack the
urban amenities craved by young professionals.
Indeed, it’s a powerful argument. Transporting workers to the suburbs instead of
developing housing opportunities and amenities in the suburbs creates a host of new land use
issues—in both cities and suburbs. But perhaps policymakers and activists can strike a middle
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ground. With the advent of new development practices and policy prescriptions, such asinfill
development, mixed-income housing, and inclusionary zoning, the cause of redevelopment need
not conflict with efforts to improve housing variety.
Infill Development
In many urban areas, surface parking lots and old, dilapidated buildings limit housing
growth and decrease economic and civic vitality. By “infilling” these underutilized properties
with denser, mixed-use development, urban planners argue, affordable housing will blend with
market-rate units until the two become nearly indistinguishable. (Note that community advocates
and politicians often use such terms as “infill,” “mixed-use development,” “urban village,” and
“smart growth” somewhat interchangeably.) For their part, “city politicians see infill
development as a way to expand their tax base, attract more middle-class residents to the city,
and build more affordable housing” (Steinacker 492).
Similarly, in a brilliant piece in the civic affairs journal Urban Studies, researcher Andrew
Aurund notes that smart growth proponents often argue “that greater density, a greater variety of
housing types, and mixed land use can alleviate the upward pressure on housing prices because
dwelling units in locations pursuing these three goals are…smaller and consume less
land” (1016). Indeed, while advocacy groups like Smart Growth America often tread carefully
around mention of “affordable housing”—perhaps for fear of increased opposition—the
coalition’s website notes that “the diverse mix of housing options in smart growth
neighborhoods…means people with different housing needs can all live in the same
neighborhood” (“Housing”). But does mixed-use development really work as well as proponents
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As it turns out, at least some of the claims of smart urban growth proponents may stand
up to quantitative research. In his study, Aurund finds that in two Northwestern cities, Portland
and Seattle, which both adopted strong density guidelines and urban growth areas in the 1990s,
the percentage of rentals available for very low-income citizens increased after the policies were
enacted and density levels increased (1029). Indeed, he notes that the research suggests that “a
neighborhood with greater density and with a greater variety of housing types is likely to have a
greater quantity of affordable rental units than a low-density neighborhood consisting of single-
family homes” (Aurund 1032).
On the other hand, in a broader, more national study of fifty of the largest metropolitan
areas, researcher Annette Steinacker finds that while infill development can benefit cities’ tax
bases, revitalize neighborhoods, and slow urban expansion, it also results in higher market-rate
housing costs, especially for the multifamily units typically more likely to be developed in
combination with affordable units (504-505). Perhaps more concerning, her research finds that
the regions most likely to attract infill are already more expensive than others.
As such, affordable housing and density can still be considered somewhat contradictory
goals that must be carefully balanced. While major benefits for cities can be realized when
smartly-implemented policies mitigate upward pricing pressures on market-rate units, developers
and policymakers must still work together to ensure a strong mix of housing options, increased
density, and a mix of land uses.
Inclusionary Zoning
Since the landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in Village of Euclid v. Ambler
Realty Company (1926), cities have been assured of the broader constitutionality of traditional
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zoning regulation practices. Typically, zoning in cities is used to “regulate uses and provide
spacial requirements; however, land use planning should also consider the community’s need for
affordable housing” (Lerman 385). Inclusionary zoning offers local governments a method to
ensure that developers “create affordable residential units as a part of any new
development” (Lerman 385). In other words, these regulations require that new housing
developers contribute a certain amount of funds to the development of affordable units. This can
be done through fees paid to the city of through directly-developed units. Often, in return for
complying with the regulations, cities grant so-called “density bonuses” to developers, which
allow a greater number of units on a site than otherwise would be allowed.
New York City, for example, has adopted a inclusionary zoning program under which
developers are allowed 33% more square footage in a development as long as they set aside 20%
of the units for affordable housing (Barro). While the developers of massive projects with
hundreds of units have taken advantage of the rules, the response to the voluntary program
among small- and medium-scale developers, somewhat understandably, has been quite tepid.
Only 3,000 affordable units are estimated to have been created between 2005 and mid-2013
(Barro). Some developers argue that because market-rate units essentially subsidize the
affordable units, the use of inclusionary zoning incentives will cause housing prices for
moderate-income families will increase. Still, Bill de Blasio and other city officials argue that the
program should be made mandatory in certain areas.
Legal analyst Brian Lerman argues in no uncertain terms that mandatory inclusionary
zoning could be “the answer to the affordable housing problem.” In his analysis published in the
Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, Lerman notes that mandatory programs have
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in the past created more affordable units than have voluntary programs (390). They also do a
better job of “alleviating social problems” and “decentralizing poverty” by “mandating
integration of the community” (Lerman 390). The success of voluntary programs, by contrast,
lies at the mercy of the strength of their attached development incentives. But what of
constitutionality? Zoning itself may be legal, but unlike inclusionary programs, typical zoning
regulations do not specify the types (low-income, luxury, etc.) of development allowed.
Lerman argues that as long as the city can establish a compelling interest for the
development of affordable housing and as long as a mandatory inclusionary zoning program does
not inhibit a developer’s ability to turn a profit, the constitutionality of the statute can be assured
(394). In the Emory Law Journal, Jennifer Morgan concurs, adding that the development of
policies at both the local and the state level can be important to ensuring the success of these
programs (383). Indeed, she notes, many states, such as Oregon and Washington, have adopted
strong growth management legislation with inclusionary zoning and affordable housing
components (373), with varying degrees of success.
For example, in recent decades, Washington State passed a strict growth management
legislation, which required cities and counties to develop “Comprehensive Plans”—essentially, a
roadmap of development over the next twenty years (“Growth Management Act”). The plans
take into account a variety of issues, including land use, transit, and affordable housing.
Typically, the affordable housing section mandates that a certain number of units be developed
by the end of the plan horizon, according to expected population increases and urban growth area
expansion. Specific plans for implementation are then left up to cities and counties, who can
develop unique inclusionary zoning policies to suit their unique needs.
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Indeed, a variety of factors contribute to the success of inclusionary zoning. The support
of state government and legislatures, the creation of “comprehensive plans” for urban areas, and
“mandatory” requirements all work to improve outcomes in the program. While detractors argue
that mandatory inclusionary zoning can increase costs, effective use of inclusionary zoning
would include density bonuses large enough to offset the decrease in a developer’s expected
Mixed-Income Housing
Over the past fifty years, the urban poor in many major American cities have become
increasingly segregated from the wealthy. In cities like San Antonio and Washington, D.C., the
two economic groups have become so separated geographically that comparisons have been
drawn to racial segregation (Badger). But while economic segregation may allow the wealthy to
live more comfortably, reaping the benefits of the best schools, public services, and facilities, the
urban poor must endure higher crime, lower graduation rates, and lower-quality public services
and facilities. By decreasing economic segregation and prioritizing development in which the
low-income can afford to live alongside middle- and upper-income families, perhaps the long-
term cycle of poverty may be reduced.
Fortunately, both mixed-use infill development and mandatory inclusionary zoning
practices result in a unique new focus on this innovative type of mixed-income housing. With
multiple different income levels living alongside each other in dense apartment complexes and
mixed-use developments, cities and counties realize a number of benefits. Researchers Paul
Brophy and Rhonda Smith note in urban affairs journal Cityscape that mixed-income housing
advocates anticipate among the lower-income residents a higher level of upward mobility, higher
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rates of employment, and lower levels of crime (6). “Low-income households,” he states, “will
have the benefit of better schools, access to jobs, and enhanced safety, enabling them to move
themselves and their children beyond their current economic condition” (Brophy and Smith 6).
Over the past several decades, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
has experimented with funding mixed-income housing projects in hopes of realizing some of
these benefits. According to Lynn Cunningham, the department’s “HOPE IV program is intended
to revitalize depressed neighborhoods by replacing selected large, severely depressed public
housing properties with modern, mixed-income…communities” (353). Through the use of
several HOPE IV grants, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) partnered with a
number of private developers to replace low-income housing projects with mixed-income
development. While many of the projects favored lower-density single-family and two-unit
townhouses, designs incorporated many smart growth elements and increased density near transit
Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C. the HOPE IV grants did not succeed in substantially
increasing the number of affordable units. Because land in the area remains in short supply, the
lower densities of the redeveloped properties resulted in net losses in units that could not be
made up elsewhere in the system. New units were less affordable for lower-income residents,
who in most cases could not utilize Section 8 vouchers for rent at the properties. Moreover,
Cunningham argues that the basic premise behind HOPE IV, namely increased economic mixing,
was applied unequally in that poor neighborhoods were deconcentrated while wealthy
neighborhoods remained intact (361-2). There are even questions as to whether the grants
contribute to gentrification. Most concerningly, however, the projects’ low-density designs
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ultimately may have doomed them to failure. Without a strong mixed-use anchor development,
HOPE IV did not produce increased levels of affordable housing in Washington, D.C. Other
cities have had differing levels of success.
Questions abound as well over the effects of mixed-income housing. Because “analysis of
the effects of mixed-income housing on the behavior of residents must take into account the
subtleties of human behavior,” measuring the true effects of mixed-income housing can be
difficult (Brophy and Smith 6). In their research, Brophy and Smith analyze several mixed-
income developments and communities in order to find common threads that lead to success. The
pair find that the most important factor in the viability of mixed-income housing, perhaps
unsurprisingly, lies in the development and management of the property. Location, design
quality, maintenance, and profitability all contribute to success. Moreover, additional programs
designed to spur social mixing must be developed in order to succeed in increasing upward
mobility (Brophy and Smith 6). A sufficient quantity of market-rate units must be developed to
make the affordable units more viable. Finally, in order to realize the largest benefits, mixed-
income housing must not distinguish between the upper-income and lower-income units, and
must not emphasize that element in marketing. These factors lead to a better, more successful
mixed-income housing project.
SECTION THREE: We Should Implement That!
Of course, despite the major long-term benefits of infill, inclusionary zoning, and mixed-
income housing in alleviating a lack of affordable housing, many areas have been quite slow to
adopt these proven reforms. Sometimes projects and policy implementation have stalled as a
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result of local politics and NIMBYism. Other times, simple economics has stalled specific
projects. Finally, sometimes city policies toward new housing are so piecemeal and fragmented
that they cannot make a dent in the affordable housing problem.
In November of 2013, residents of Palo Alto, California overturned their City Council’s
unanimous approval of a 72-unit mixed-use affordable housing infill project called 562 Maybell
Avenue (Smith). The development, which would have included sixty apartments for low-income
seniors and twelve market-rate townhouses, was designed to help alleviate a dearth of units in
Palo Alto for low-income residents. Opponents cited the potential for increased traffic as a major
concern, despite the project’s traffic mitigation efforts and location near a major transit corridor
(Smith). With a major housing crunch in the Silicon Valley, the voters’ denial quickly became a
national example of the “not in my backyard” phenomenon, or NIMBYism, in action.
These neighbors of proposed projects object on often shaky grounds, although it is
important to note that some of the concerns of so-called NIMBYs (neighbors in opposition to a
nearby project) may have a certain level of validity. For example, dense projects can increase the
number of vehicle trips on surrounding roads. Many projects violate zoning or development
agreements set forth for specific sites. Sometimes developers propose buildings with ugly
architecture or poor site plans. Frequently a project will have an unmitigated environmental
But because such opposition is often driven more by emotion than rational thinking,
NIMBYism often arises out of no single discernible issue. (Although one Vancouver, B.C.
famously wrote that the NIMBY phenomenon itself might better be described as FRUIT—“fear
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of revitalization, urban infill, and towers.”) Property values, traffic, and zoning violations are
common citations, but location might be the single sticking point.
Affordable housing projects may be particularly vulnerable to NIMBYism. The residents
of a wealthy town like Palo Alto, for example, may not want to live alongside lower-income
neighbors. They may worry that an influx of lower-income people will decrease property values
and increase crime. Residents in traditionally lower-income cities, like Spokane, Washington,
may oppose projects like halfway-houses that can aid in getting former criminals off of the street
and preventing recidivism (CITE).
Fortunately, NIMBYism can be at least somewhat mitigated. Affordable housing
developers should consider potential neighborhood opposition from the very start, planning the
project’s size, type, density, appearance, and other factors around the area’s existing zoning plans
and development patterns. Jaimie Ross of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition argues
that developers should educate elected officials and investigate potential legitimate legal
problems so as to ensure approval (10-11). Meanwhile, special care should be taken to “gather
allies from a broad range of interests” and to “address all legitimate neighborhood and
community opposition” (Ross 11). The best projects blend the best of residents’ desires with the
needs of the developer in order to create a project with broad support.
Of course, this reads almost like Pressman and Wildavsky’s suggestions for ensuring
public policy success in Implementation. By addressing NIMBYism from the very start,
developers would essentially be designing a policy with a special eye toward its implementation.
In Oakland, local Economic Development Agency head Eugene Foley turned his nose at meeting
with community groups and neighborhoods, ultimately dooming public support for his projects.
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As such, strong communication and interaction with potential opposing community groups
throughout the project development phase would ensure at the very least that NIMBYism does
not arise suddenly and without warning.
To be sure, NIMBYism can cause headaches for affordable housing developers. As
neighbors of a project argue, whether justifiably or unfairly, about property values, traffic, and
crime, support for a project may erode in the wider community. In order to avoid the fate of Palo
Alto’s 562 Maybell Avenue, developers should plan from the start for opposition, incorporating a
plan for project changes at the request of the community. In addition, project managers should
engage with the community from the very start of a project to limit the number of surprises
which arise at the last minute and diminish the likelihood of approval. Through smart planning,
developers typically can find a path around NIMBYism and through to construction.
Sometimes, affordable housing projects can run into problems before their creation, due
to unfavorable economics. In areas like the Silicon Valley and San Francisco, for example, where
the cost of land has reached exorbitant levels and a strong demand for housing compounds the
struggle for low-income units, the opportunity cost of producing affordable units over market-
rate units becomes so high that developers simply refuse to develop affordable units.
Mandatory inclusionary zoning attempts to solve this problem, but in areas with an
already-strong housing market, fund contributions may not be enough for housing authorities to
build a sufficient number of affordable units. And because market-rate units subsidize the lower-
income units, direct development of affordable housing can indeed result in a higher cost of
market-rate housing, further squeezing middle-income buyers out of the market (Quigley 69-70).
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Cities can mitigate these economic issues by ensuring that density bonuses for
inclusionary housing projects balance with the cost of construction. Building a larger number of
market-rate units would theoretically decrease the amount that each family essentially
contributes to subsidize the low-income component of the project. In addition, economic
“carrots,” like tax subsidies, benefits, or even public financing can sweeten the deal for
developers. Of course, cities must be careful to ensure long-term viability, but if short-term
efforts result in additional units, then those options should be explored.
Poor City Policies
While most cities at least nominally endorse affordable housing and low-income housing
construction, their municipal codes and comprehensive development plans may not offer the type
of far-reaching, universal policy strategy that would actually solve the problem. Instead, local
development laws often consist of a complex, difficult-to-navigate patchwork of often-
conflicting policies and zoning regulations. Considerable confusion results for well-intentioned
developers, low-income housing advocates, and policymakers
For example, a city’s comprehensive plan may prioritize infill development with a mixed-
use focus, but fail to include relevant enforcement mechanisms that ensure code compliance.
Local governments may pass a mandatory inclusionary zoning component, but apply it only to a
certain area of the city or to certain types of projects. Inclusionary zoning may live alongside
exclusionary zoning (which mandates certain heights, parking lots, and setback requirments)
despite evidence that the strongest mandatory exclusionary zoning policies blanket the city
without discrimination (Lerman 392). And though mixed-income housing may be promoted on
paper, many cities, such as New York City, have not yet thrown their weight entirely behind the
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proposal, opting to continue to support the types of public housing projects which segregate low-
income residents from wealthier citizens.
Unfortunately, simplifying and streamlining these conflicting policies can prove difficult.
In some states, any change to development laws involves a comprehensive plan update, which
can require the approval of a state hearings board. Local governments may find powerful
political interests standing in opposition, depending on the policy, including homebuilders’
associations and neighborhood advocates. Finally, despite the attention given in the Bay Area to
income inequality and affordable housing, partially as a result of the Google bus protests, in most
cities, residents possess little appetite for changes in development laws to make affordable
housing easier and more profitable to develop. As such, city policies encourage affordable
housing at a mere fraction of their potential.
CONCLUSION: Long-Term Prognosis
Land-use and urban development strategies often tread a fine line between supporting
affordable housing and working against it. Through the use of mixed-use, high density infill
development, inclusionary zoning practices, and mixed-income housing prioritization, many
regions attempt to make more units available for low-income residents. But NIMBYism, simple
economics, and uncoordinated city policies can create problems in implementation. And without
a major focusing event, in most areas of the country the issue remains more of a background
concern than one at the forefront of the public’s attention.
In the case of Winchester Ranch, the mobile home park for the elderly across the street
from Santana Row, the City of San José has a number of policies in place to ensure that any
potential developer would contribute a significant amount to affordable development in the area.
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But even if Pulte Homes purchases the property, demolishes the mobile homes, and constructs
500 low-income units, the seniors will still be out of a home, the developers will miss out on
millions of dollars in profit, and the area’s low-income housing situation would not be
substantially affected. Perhaps the the clearest signal yet that in the complex realm of land use
planning, affordable housing remains caught in a high-stakes balancing act.

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