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Can affordable housing requirements go too far?

While Baltimore is starting to grapple with its affordable housing crisis, San Francisco voters are considering a measure to require developers to include cheaper units.

The ballot initiative would bump the number of below-market rate units required in a new development from 11 percent to 25 percent.

But, according to an article in City Lab by Kriston Capps, simply forcing developers to increase the amount of affordable housing included in a project may not be the best way to address the problem.

With Proposition C, San Francisco may have have swung all the way over the swing set. An inclusionary zoning standard of 25 percent affordable housing may be too restrictive for developers. One provision of the ballot measure would establish an Inclusionary Housing Technical Advisory Committee to gauge the economic feasibility of the new requirements—but only after those requirements had been voted into place. One problem with Proposition C, according to Colen and others, is that it puts the cart before the horse.

Although it’s complete folly to compare the housing market in Baltimore to San Francisco, it may be instructive for activists in Baltimore pushing for stronger affordable housing provisions here to keep an eye on how Proposition C shakes out in the next few years.

If skeptics are right, and requiring developers to include more units is a non-starter, it may benefit Charm City to try and subsidize more affordable units through strategies like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s proposed affordable housing fund or  Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s proposal to for the city to issue $20 million in general obligation bonds to be invested in nonprofit and community land trusts through an affordable housing trust fund.



About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.

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