A few days ago, I was complaining to a friend, as I often do, about how worthless I find most local news. Regular readers will already be familiar with my feelings on this. He defended the reporters, saying that the job is hard, and that to report on policy with any depth or nuance required more research than most reporters have time for. I wholeheartedly disagree. There is simply no excuse for reporting on important topics like housing policy and getting your facts completely wrong.
Take this article in today’s Trib, for example:
Inclusionary zoning ordinances, as they are called, are designed mainly to ensure people can have home ownership opportunities in the communities in which they work, rather than forcing people to live far distances from the workplace.
No, they aren’t. There is no requirement in most IZ ordinances that the recipient of the lottery-awarded units work in the city with the home, or even that they live in the city before they get the unit. At the IZ meeting at the City Council last fall, one man speaking in favor of the ordinance told the Council that he moved to San Francisco after winning a lottery unit. I talked with a woman a few weeks ago who had moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast after winning a lottery unit in Emeryville. Furthermore, nowhere in the article does the writer explain that these units are marketed to people making as much as $90,000/year, not to those in most dire need of housing assistance.
In Oakland, a proposal that would have required developers to set aside at least 15 percent of new housing units for low- or moderate-income residents failed by the narrowest of margins last year. After the City Council split 4-4 on the question, then-Mayor Jerry Brown cast the tie-breaking vote against it, saying the proposal would have driven developers and private investment out of the city while doing little to help the 30,000 families living below the poverty line in Oakland.
NO, NO, NO!!! This didn’t happen! I was there! The Council never voted on inclusionary zoning. Desley Brooks introduced a substitute motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission to further study the issue and make recommendations for the Council to vote on later. The only thing that was voted on was the creation of the BRC. That’s what Jerry Brown cast a tie-breaking vote on. And he voted for the motion, not against.
Lest anyone think this is a minor point, I’ll remind them that one of the Council’s IZ crusaders disagrees. Jean Quan, at that meeting, practically threw a temper tantrum when she learned that since she had cast a vote on the substitute motion she could no longer bring the original motion to the floor (Apparently Ms. Quan does not spend her free time studying parlimentary procedure. Seriously, she really should have known better.). She cried “Now we can’t say they voted against it!”.
Inclusionary zoning proposals frequently do come up against the argument that they may stymie development. Dianne Spaulding, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, said numerous cities’ experiences with inclusionary zoning indicates that such fears are unwarranted.”There’s really no factual data that for-profit developers cannot build under this kind of policy,” she said.
Yes, they do “come up against” that argument. Don’t you think that this would have been an opportune time to mention that the Council commissioned an economic feasibility study (PDF!) to see how IZ would impact development in Oakland? And that the study showed that it would, in fact, halt development in most of the city? That an IZ ordinance would reduced the profit on a mid-rise condo project from 14% of development costs to 3%? Does anyone think that we can expect developers to build with that rate of return? Why not look at the actual numbers of affordable units created in cities that have it, and see how the compare? How about looking for studies showing how IZ has affected the housing market in cities that adopt it (PDF)? Oh, I know. Because it’s a lot easier to simply quote a non-factual talking point from an IZ advocate.
And it is completely irresponsible to discuss affordable housing creation programs without explaining how Oakland is currently funding its BMR housing construction. State law mandates that 15% of units built in redevelopment areas are affordable to very-low, low, and moderate incomes. These are paid for with the tax increment created through market-rate projects.
The real question Oakland’s City Council needs to ask is this. Do we want a policy that makes us sound like we care and makes activists happy but that will hurt affordable housing production and property tax receipts? Or do we want to put some effort into crafting policies that will really help people in need?