Development, Housing Affordability, and Gentrification: Utilizing the Tools (Part 3 of 3)


This is the final post in a three –part series that explores gentrification as an ‘unintended consequence’ of the (re)development of a place, and identifies innovative tools that cities are using to address the overlapping issues of mobility and affordability.

The previous blog posts (part 1 and part 2) in the series highlighted some of the consequences of place-based economic redevelopment on long-time residents in city neighborhoods, specifically calling for a re-examination of how and with whom we plan the future of our communities.  In this post, I highlight a few priorities, as well as tools that are already readily available to local governments and community organizations to realize a vision based on equitable development.

Guiding Priorities:

The types of stakeholders, community conditions, and market potential for each neighborhood within a city varies, so no single strategy works everywhere.  Regardless, certain universal priorities help to ensure that equity and affordability are comprehensively addressed in the development process.


  • Housing affordability and variety. If an end goal is to see that long-term residents are also able to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy the fruits of development, ensuring the affordability and availability of housing – at a variety of incomes levels- is critical.  Given the potential for development to very quickly drive up the cost of surrounding housing, local governments must use a variety of tools to make sure that future housing needs of low- and middle- income residents are met as well.  Similarly, it is important to provide a variety of types of housing (i.e. to accommodate families as well as single, young professionals) and an adequate mix of owner vs. rental housing that responds to the dual characteristics of long-time and future residents.
  • Job diversity and quality. The creation and/ or retention of short- and long-term jobs for current residents is as vital to guaranteeing that they  are able to stay in the neighborhood as quality, affordable housing.  Jobs that require diverse skillsets, pay living wages, and offer opportunities for growth ensure that all residents are able to stay and actively participate in the local workforce.
  • Community amenitiesA (related) negative consequence of redevelopment is the potential to displace critical community services such as neighborhood centers and social services. These facilities often foster a sense of ownership and attachment to the neighborhood and should be preserved during and after development. In her book, Root Shock, Dr. Mindy Fullilove uses the consequences of Urban Renewal to illustrate the importance of preserving and cultivating social networks and institutions as a critical aspect of vibrant, healthy communities.

This report, produced by Puget Sound Sage, discusses these priorities (and others) through an in-depth assessment of transit investment and the threat of gentrification in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. 

Proven Tools:

Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs)In instances where a proposed development does not have a direct positive effect on a community, local governments may choose to use a CBA, which requires developers to follow additional requirements in order to  be able to build their project. CBAs are project-specific, legally-binding agreements that ensure that the needs of local stakeholders (such as municipal infrastructure) are addressed in return for approval of the development of a new project in the neighborhood. These agreements, which are the outcome of a negotiation process between the developer and the community coalition and/or the local government, create additional requirements that the developer must adhere to. Local governments can encourage CBAs in order to increase community engagement and support for an economic development effort, and meet specific needs of current residents.

The Bayview- Hunters Point CBA in San Francisco is an example of how the community worked with a housing developer to incorporate affordable housing requirements, housing assistance funds, and job training funds as part of the CBA.  (developed by The Partnership for Working Families)

Transit- Oriented Development (TOD) Fund: Given that (re)development often takes place along transit nodes, local governments can use a TOD fund to preserve land for a specific purpose such as affordable housing. TOD funds are often revolving loan funds that provide capital to purchase and hold sites strategically along corridors that are either under development for public transit or are scheduled for transit construction.  By utilizing TOD funds to preserve affordable housing along such central areas, local governments can also help minimize the transportation burden placed on low- and moderate-income workers.

Several partners from the Mile High Connects initiative- including Enterprise Community Partners and the Urban Land Conservancy, as well as the city and county of Denver- have worked together to create a TOD acquisition fund.  Denver’s TOD Fund will help create and preserve over 1,000 units of affordable housing along current and future transit corridors.

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Policies:  Local governments adopt inclusionary zoning (IZ) policies to ensure that new developments provide affordable housing units, either within the development itself or elsewhere, in return for (non-monetary) compensation to developers. IZ policies are flexible– they can be either mandatory or voluntary and their structure is largely determined by the needs and demands of the jurisdiction, allowing them to be responsive to a community’s particular needs. IZ policies are attractive tools for local governments because they rarely require funding from a jurisdiction, and although local governments eventually take on the burden of affordable units from developers, inclusionary zoning has proved to be a cost-effective strategy in the long run.

PolicyLink has developed a comprehensive toolkit to further explain IZ programs; outline financing opportunities; and highlight policy challenges and opportunities.  The toolkit includes case studies from various jurisdictions- including the City of Cambridge- that have successfully utilized IZ policies to retain affordable housing in developing areas.

‘Sustainability’ is quickly catching on in small, medium, and large cities throughout the country—and, undoubtedly, the environmental and economic results of sustainability initiatives have proven extremely successful. My hope is that, as we (re)invest in our neighborhoods and corridors, in our transit system, and in our small businesses, we don’t lose sight of the fact that truly sustainable communities will only emerge from the inclusion of diverse narratives and visions for the future.  The threat of gentrification is very real; however, local governments can utilize a variety of strategies (and a dose of creativity) to cultivate healthy, quality communities for all residents and encourage place-based economic development at the same time.

Is your city utilizing any of these tools already? What do you think about these issues? Feel free to email and/or comment below!

2 comments on “Development, Housing Affordability, and Gentrification: Utilizing the Tools (Part 3 of 3)”

  1. The goal of more inclusive, equitable and affordable redevelopment is important. The tools mentioned above can be beneficial. However, they are more effective when the underlying economic externalities related to real estate markets are addressed directly. One tool for simultaneously enhancing the affordability of buildings and land is discucssed in an article, “Using Value Capture to Finance Infrastructure and Encourage Compact Development.” It can be found at

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