Chicago Tried To Do Two Things At Once: Is It A Fatal Flaw Of Inclusionary Zoning?

high rise towers in open green space
The Chicago Housing Authority's Stateway Gardens Project is being replaced with a mixed income development. Other public housing sites, waiting their turn, lie vacant.

Inclusionary zoning projects seem to offer the best of all worlds. In the form of public/private partnerships, they appear to address both the capitalist free market right to profit from value-added enterprise. And at the same time they address the human right to adequate housing, even setting aside some housing units that are accessible to all.

As a flavour-of-the-decade, however, inclusionary zoning projects are beginning to reveal flaws that may ultimately be due to a leap of faith that is not justified.

That leap? The belief that ultimately, one way or another, the capitalist right to profit can walk hand in hand into the sunset with the human right to adequate housing. That’s a belief that these two very different challenges can be met by performing them both at once.1

Much of the criticism levelled at these projects reflects the reality of a private profit-making enterprise attempting to build an affordable housing component with small government subsidies or no subsidies at all.

The criticism? The quantity of affordable housing is little more than a token solution to an affordable housing crisis. But . . . at least the project is inclusionary — a social benefit — and at least some affordable housing is being built (possibly more, if the subsidies are generous).

This ‘inevitable’ criticism of inclusionary projects draws attention away from another, quite calamitous possibility: that a failure is not just an issue on the ‘affordable housing’ side of things, but the collapse or malfunction of the free market engine that is meant to be driving the project.

Such a problem has occurred in Chicago, where long term plans based on market rate projections and other key concepts turned out to be wrong. Read more in CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS: The CHA Had A Grand Plan For The Future Of Public Housing. Then Came The Bust.

Is Chicago’s failed inclusionary process ‘just one of those things?’ Or is it an indicator and a warning that two very different objectives — the capitalist right to make a profit and the human right to adequate housing — can seldom be pursued together with meaningful success?


  1. For more on this subject, try: Affordable Housing Path Forward: Don’t Assume Shelter & Investment Are Compatible


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