Inclusive Housing Means Inclusive Neighborhoods: Our Letter to The Oregonian

A recent study from Harvard and UC Berkeley has raised a lot of concerns about the relationship between sprawl and income mobility. As Paul Krugman summed it up in the New York Times, researchers found that many Americans are effectively "Stranded by Sprawl"--caught in a cycle of high transportation costs, income segregation, and poor health that prevent them from moving up the economic ladder.

The "stranded by sprawl" hypothesis was further explored and supported by two researchers from Better! Cities and Towns, Emily Talen and Julia Koschinsky.

A key way to combat this: land use and housing policies that encourage mixed-income neighborhoods where it is easier to take transit, bike, or walk to work and other daily activities. That is a cornerstone of 1000 Friends' work for what we call Cool Communities.

The Oregonian's editorial board also examined the study and issued an editorial expressing concern about what it might mean for Portland, which did better than average among major metropolitan areas, but still has room for improvement. While the Oregonian focused on unemployment, it missed a key opportunity to advocate for an effective tool to create more inclusive neighborhoods: inclusionary zoning.

In response, 1000 Friends Policy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy and Jonathan Ostar, Executive Director of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, wrote a letter to the editor explaining how this tool could help improve income mobility in the Portland region, and Oregon generally/

The letter is below:

In its Aug. 3 editorial on sprawl and income mobility, The Oregonian editorial board does well to identify an important conclusion of the recent mobility report from Harvard University and UC Berkeley: that "one of the best ways to help low-income workers advance is to make it easier for them to live in mixed-income neighborhoods that are close to employment centers."

Yet the editorial board does not link this imperative to a key barrier preventing it here at home: the current statewide prohibition on mandatory inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is a common land-use tool that allows cities and counties to require affordable housing in new developments, thereby providing those who work in a community the opportunity to also live there. Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country are currently using inclusionary zoning to great results, but Oregon and Texas are the only states that have banned this important tool. Fortunately, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is creating a work group to consider repealing the ban in 2014, and several community-based organizations will be working hard to restore local control.

Though The Oregonian editorial board is right to identify the need for more family-wage jobs in the region, it misses an opportunity to identify a root cause of unequal opportunity: the existing prohibition on tools proven to foster mixed-income neighborhoods and, as a result, greater income mobility.

Overturning this ban will require legislative action. 1000 Friends will be working with elected officials, partners like OPAL, and other community advocates to ensure that Oregon doesn't continue to keep its inclusive housing toolbox partially shut--so we can open more doors to livable neighborhoods and homes for more Oregonians.

Learn more about inclusionary housing in this informative page on inclusionary zoning (or "inclusionary housing") from Housing Land Advocates.

If you care about neighborhoods that are accessible to all, please consider a donation to 1000 Friends at www.friends.org/support.

Read this letter on Oregon Live here.

Access the original study here.