What is inclusionary zoning?

The word inclusion gets thrown a lot in many facets of our everyday life. 

For instance, teaching students in classroom settings, I am keenly aware of how I should make sure to understand each students’ situations, progresses…and the participation levels.  Another example of inclusion also happens in my office work setting. As the boss of an architecture office working with employees, I am aware of my responsibility as a leader to include everyone’s input and concerns.  

Like these examples, all of us are more conscious of inclusion importance in our everyday life.  

Even though we are accustomed to the word, inclusion, the execution of it may not happen…whether consciously or subconsciously.

An excellent example of such a challenge would be the housing crisis, especially the affordable kind.  

Not only is the magnitude of the work involved in tackling the issue, but it also requires EVERYONE’s efforts: the city, builders, and the community (you and me). In addition to a huge undertaking, it needs something else: the ongoing effort by future generations.  

What is Inclusionary Zoning (IZ)?

We generally have an understanding of what zoning is.

It is the city regulation setting the physical guidelines for how we should live with others outside of our homes. The sidewalk width in certain streets or allowed distance between the houses would be examples of zoning requirements.  

With these guidelines, we got used to living in specific ways.  

Our “certain ways” of living would change with the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) by the City of Toronto coming in September this year.  

The official definition for the IZ is creating affordable housing in new development while supporting mixed-income communities. Some of the advantages of IZ are stated on the City of Toronto website:

  • increasing affordable housing stocks
  • creating an inclusive and equitable community
  • creating a diverse range of housing supplies for different sectors of communities

It is a way for the city to create/ increase affordable housing to allow more (if not all) to live together equitably.  

There have been many examples of IZ in other countries. Our closest neighbour, the US, already has many of those examples. New Jersey has whopping 760 IZ regulated programs, and California has 144 programs. Zooming out and seeing the European city are more examples of successful IZ developments.  

The City of Toronto has implemented Inclusionary Zoning as part of the requirement for new buildings. Starting in 2022, 5 to 10% of condo units need to be developed as affordable units. By 2030, those percentages would be increased to 8 to 22%.

These numbers do not seem to correspond to the lack of affordable housing crisis we read about these days. Seeing the current stats, 2% of affordable housing indicates another level of urgency we face.

Yes, only 2% of affordable housing was built in the last 5 years!

Another interesting stat in the affordability discussion is the duration: 99 years of affordability. Mandating these new developments to stay “affordable” for the century seems encouraging, even if the word “affordable” could mean different things 99 years later:)

Why is Inclusionary Zoning needed in Toronto?

We already understand the urgent need for more affordable housing options.  

Providing the next step in the how-to/ solution part will be the critical (and challenging) element in tackling this enormous task.  

One of the foundational ways to approach this task is through zoning. It is not simply to “build more” but to have a regulatory frame for how to build more. That is the basis for the new zoning criteria: Inclusionary Zoning.  

Housing Affordability is the overarching issue we face now and also for future generations. Inclusionary Zoning is one of many tools that can help with this gigantic crisis we meet along with climate change.  

Photo by Vincent Albos on Pexels.com

This point brings back our past building housing efforts: building only 2% of affordable housing in the last 5 years!

Reading the latest news, Toronto is one of the most liveable cities; with the increase in immigration numbers, the lack of housing issues would worsen over time. 

The definition of Affordable Housing is stated on the City of Toronto website:

The housing of total monthly shelter cost (gross monthly rent plus utilities including heat/Hydro/ hot water/water) is at or below the lesser of one time of avarice city of Toronto rent, dwelling unit Type reported by CMHC.  Or 30% of before-tax monthly income. CITY OF TORONTO

With these clear criteria laid out for the word affordability, the next step in new housing development should be created with new zoning criteria.

With this fundamental shift in zoning requirements, our focus on building more housing can start.   

Our efforts should not simply be to “build more” but to have a regulatory foundation to support such effort.

Inclusionary Zoning has 3 main areas of importance:

  1. Increase affordable housing units (for rental and ownership)
  2. Create inclusive and equitable community (development around transit area for each community to have equitable access like other communities.
  3. Create a range of different housing supplies (rental, ownership, size, type etc.)

Inclusionary Zoning has some enemies.

Implementing changes is not easy, especially like the zoning changes that have many implications for different stakeholders.

Inclusionary Zoning faces some opponents and their strong opinions.  

One of the prevailing opinions from builders is how the IZ will make the housing situation worse for the city. On the other hand, the city does not share the same views.

The City of Toronto’s new Inclusionary Zoning stipulates a new development project must include affordable housing units. For developers, not providing any incentives by the city make them less interested in pursuing such projects.

In other words, these type of projects is not profitable for developers. 

The city officials argue that “developers make a lot of profits, especially in the past”; therefore, they can afford to build these affordable housing units with “less profit .” Of course, the developers explain that “everything costs the same regardless of affordable or non-affordable housing” when it comes to construction.

As a non-developer/non-city official person, I admit both explanations sound valid. (Although it is difficult to verify how accurate these “a lot of money” or “everything costs the same” figures are without their documents.  

Amid these conflicting disagreements, a third party: economists and politicians, opposes the mandated affordable housing requirements in the Inclusionary Zoning discussion. 

These people (by the way, who tends to not live in affordable housing) believe that mandated initiative such as IZ would increase the housing prices, which in turn would create a worse situation in terms of affordability.  

They may be right in some instances, looking at some examples in other cities. It is also conceivable that similar situations can happen here in Toronto.

So, what do you do? 

Final Thought 

Inclusionary zoning is one of the ways to mitigate the affordable housing crisis.  

It is not the only solution, but arguably the first one. Envisioning how we want to create an inclusive city starts with our collective thoughts.  

One thing is cerain with many questions (and oppositions) and no definite answers. Taking the necessary step now, even if we don’t have all the answers for later, is definitely the right approach.  

We can agree that having a successful outcome from Inclusionary Zoning for our city requires EVERYONE’s efforts: the city, builders and the communities.

While debating the pros and cons of the IZ, we must be making progress with future-focused views.  

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Life Outside of Design Studio and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.

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