Blog #50 – Inclusionary Zoning: Good and Bad

Blog #50 – Inclusionary Zoning: Do’s and Do-not’s. —

[Slightly revised version incorporated in Blog #53, Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Cautions on de Blasio’s Plan]

Inclusionary housing can lead to neighborhoods further functionally segregated by race and income, if not controlled, and can be an inefficient use of governmental subsidies if provided.Inclusionary housing only works where the market is strong enough so that a developer or landlord can make a profit from market prices high enough to cover the provision of below-market rate units. Thus, it will only work in higher income neighborhoods, predictably more non-Hispanic white than the in the city as a whole. That effect will be particularly strong the lower the income of the target population to be benefited, in the development. And if it is limited to already higher income neighborhoods, it is likely to increase the concentration of significantly segregated residences in the city if it provides bonuses for buildings which , net, increase the proportion of high-income uses in a community. A very delicate balancing is required, with opposing dangers.

Further, the higher the effective subsidy needed, the higher the rents/prices of the market rate units needed to make inclusion profitable. If owners are permitted to select tenants providing inclusionary benefits, they will discriminate in favor of the highest permitted income and the most “responsible” (“acceptable” ) tenants, creaming among applicants by considerations other than the need for housing. With the large majority of residents of an inclusionary development paying market plus rents, their demands on neighborhood facilities and services will be very different from those of the residents of the below-market rate units, to the latters’ disadvantage. Identifying the below-market rate units as such permits a likely stigmatization and pressure to separate out their residents. The worst case scenario might be the equivalent of servant’s quarters in a private residence.

But there are good ways and bad ways of designing and implementing inclusionary zoning, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.


  • Permit the market to determine where inclusionary housing will be provided.
  • Implement it particularly in transitional neighborhoods where the probability and disadvantages of gentrification are greatest.[1]
  • Let owners determine selection of residents for below-market-rate units.
  • Permit external identification of affordable units, or their isolation.
  • Ignore neighborhood impacts of construction, and neighborhood needs for facilities and services.
  • Make inclusionary development financially profitable by allocating public subsidies , including tax and other benefits, to support their rentals, effectively reducing the pressure on market-rate rentals and reducing cross-subsidy effect.
  • Provide as bonuses deviation from neighborhood planning and construction standards and limitations, e.g. height limits, zoning restrictions.
  • Permit obligation to provide below-market rate units to expire.


  • Make inclusionary housing mandatory, and target city programs of support in such a way that they draw on the developer’s profits over subsidies to support them.
  • Require a high enough number of below-market-rate units in any building to permit the provision of neighborhood facilities and services for the needs of all residents.
  • Permit city control of tenant selection for below-market units, perhaps using Housing Authority waiting lists and criteria.
  • Hold to planning-established limits on height, set-backs, etc. avoiding the granting of zoning and building exceptions’ or bonuses for inclusionary developments.
  • Provide for major participation in design and implementation of proposed beneficiaries in need of affordable housing

Conclusion: Inclusionary housing can be an excellent program, but requires caution in its application. The devil is in the details. On-going effective participation of intended beneficiaries in need of housing is key in design and implementation.

[1] De Blasio’s plan speaks of focus on transitional neighborhoods, p.8 but it also calls for it “in all medium and high density districts where rezonings provide an opportunity for significantly more housing.” P.30

Blog #49 Picketty, Leonhardt, and Market Economics


Blog #49 draft Picketty, Leonhardt, and Market Economics

David Leonhardt writes: “What is it about market economies that typically causes the assets and incomes of the rich to rise more rapidly than those of everyone else?”[1]

Picketty’s First Law of Inequality explains some – they accrue capital, invest, it,and benefit from the return on it (although the rich don’t invest all of their profits in capital to make more profits, but send a good bit of it on consumption, , from yachts on down. And a good bit of investment capital comes from borrowing from the savings of the non-rich, e.g. pension plans and savings accounts).

But isn’t there something else going on too? The rich get rich by owning capital that they use to buy machines and hire workers to use them to produce value. They profit by the difference between what they have invested and what they sell the end product for, minus what they pay the workers that have produced that product. The less they pay the workers, the higher their profits. When unemployment is low and workers are well organized and strong, labor’s bargaining position is strong; profits are less, workers’ incomes rise, inequality is reduced. When unemployment is high and labor weak, the rich who control are strong, not just in bargaining but also in shaping labor and social welfare legislation, their profits go up. Inequality increases. The rich get richer, because the non-rich don’t.  That’s the way the market works.

For more on the political end of this, and fighting poverty just by anti-poverty measures, see, Blogs #43-48.

The rich aren’t job creators, they’re job reducers and wage reducers, if they want to be profitable. They have to be. That’s the way the system works.

[1] David Leonhardt,”Inequality Has Been Going On Forever … but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Inevitable,” New York Times, Magazine Section, May 2, 2014







Blog #48 – Writing About Inequality

To the Editor, The New York Times,

(re: Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off,but Far Behind”.. (Front page, May 1, 2014)

 A researcher is quoted as saying: “the poor are better off than they were… but they have also drifted further away.” “Drifted away,” indeed! The story says: “…the poor have fallen further behind.” They have “fallen?” What images does such writing conjure up? Inequality increases because the poor drift away from being better off, the silly, ne’er-do-wells? They can’t keep their balance, these helpless people? That’s surely not the intent, but it’s the effect of using stock formulations without thinking about them.

Would a formulation like: “While the poor fell behind or drifted away,the rich rose higher and marched further ahead” pass muster?

Or would formulations to explain increasing inequality like: ““The rich have gotten even richer on the backs of the poor,” or “The poor have been pushed even further down by the growing wealth of the rich” pass muster at the Times? After all, it takes two to be unequal. The victims shouldn’t be blamed for their poverty without examining what happened at the other end of the divide. Inequality increases because the rich get richer as well as the poor getting poorer. A coincidence?

 Peter Marcuse                                                            May 1, 2014.



Blog #46 – The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal

The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal

Gentrification is an ethical problem. At the societal level, it is a problem of social justice.

At that level, some quite clear guidelines for an ethical approach can be developed. At the individual level, however, there may be more complicated answers, more dependent on individual circumstances

 The following discussion takes it that the undesirable consequences of the displacement caused by gentrification are by now well established, [1] and the issue is how to address such displacement to obtain a more social and ethically just result. A number of approaches are the first section. The second section deals, less satisfactorily, with the issue of individual ethics, with only one firm conclusion.

The Transformative Ethical Societal Measures:

 The general principles should be clear by now:


I) Where there are vacancies, provide for some limited middle income in-movers into workng class neighborhoods, in numbers and under conditions acceptable to existing residents, conditions established through democratic controls. Those numbers and conditions should include measures to prevent speculation in increased housing values both by limited equity and income controlled occupancy, as with community land trusts or mutual housing associations, or by local BID-like residential stabilization district tax and planning programs. In New York City empowering existing but democratically selected community boards in threatened districts to determine the limits of such development, as through effective more than advisory ULURP proceedings, would make a major difference. Encouraging rising incomes of existing residents through general economic policies and community economic development is a longer-time but more fundamental solution. .

 II) Require that all new construction be of mixed income housing, in sensitively planned developments with publicly established and legally controlled balanced price and occupancy limits, as part of a broad program for adequate housing supply across incomes.

 III) Strictly limit the ability of upper-income households to make or keep neighborhoods exclusionary. Prohibit such actions by development controls on occupancy through zoning, confiscatory taxation of speculative real estate land transaction and profits therefrom, rent controls throughout the system, high progressive property value taxes with revenues partly dedicated to subsidizing the provision of housing under 1) and 2)

IV ) Reexamine and adapt all existing governmental programs and controls, at local, state, and national levels, to take into account these principles[2]

 And one could list the specific guidelines that would go in the right direction:

 1. First principle. No Displacement. Period. No evictions. No one moves unless they agree they’re better off after, and want to.
2. Any replacement housing must protect social ties.
3. Where displacement is not an issue, including economic displacement, etc., the first priority is looking at area needs of all  those potential in-movers in need of housing, and providing for them first, based on need, not on income.
4. For any action whatsoever, community control is key, and not for every community, but for those serving residents based on need — i.e. limited community control where it’s a high income exclusionary community, according to general principles for community goals, outlawing exclusion.
5. Heavy anti-speculation taxes, virtually eliminating profit for increases land values.
6. Widespread use of alternate tenure forms taking housing out of the market, e.g. community land trusts, mutual housing associations, public land banks, public financing and resales controls.
7. Extensive public or community investment in shared facilities: kitchens, libraries, recreation and sorts, education, security, all under community control (but #4).
8. Willingness to use militant tactics and strategies to achieve just ends.           9. More research, not simply descriptive of extent of gentrification and its causes, but also on what has or could work to deal with displacement. on what has worked.
10. Public education advancing critical understanding, demolishing established ideological shibboleths such as balance as a goal in the allocation of public resources (high-income folks’ needs don’t deserve “balancing” against low-income folks needs).

 Such answers are not likely to be easily or fully implemented in any private market economy in the near future. But the effort to adopt them can be transformative. Efforts to implement them can help move the decision-making as to residential patterns from the market, which reflects the inequalities and injustices of the capitalist system, to the public sector, where the terrain for decision-making is substantially more democratic (even if with severe limits) than in the market.

 The Individual Ethical Measures:

 “Gentrifier? Who, Me?” is the aptly named sensitive recent article by John Joe Schlichtman And Jason Patch,[3] and poses the individual ethical question clearly. If displacement from gentrification is wrong – the issue of social ethics – then are gentrifiers who displace ethically wrong in the individual actions in moving in where they’re not wanted? But gentrifiers are people too, with their own needs and facing their own constraints. Studies from the very beginning have shown that they are often people just like those that study them and what they do – just like us. Damaris Rose found that to be true at the very beginning of research on the subject. So did Neil Smith, writing on gentrifiers as pioneers. And so did Lance Freeman, implicitly. But what makes these decent people displace other people with lower incomes in a worse position to find decent housing than they? Not their moral turpitude, but, at least, in many cases, their lack of available alternatives affordable to them.

 If the world of residential real estate most gentrifiers would look at is divided among working class/lower income neighborhoods, middle income largely suburban neighborhoods, and rich exclusionary neighborhoods, and if decent gentrifiers like us don’t want to live in suburbs for a variety of good reasons, where can they go? Either up or down. They can’t go up to pricey neighborhoods, often gated, racially exclusive. Expand their own neighborhoods? They are too limited, and either subject to too strong upward price pressures from upscale conversion, or too run down physically, to provide long-term answers.. So: move down, price-wise, to working class neighborhoods in tolerable condition and still marginally reasonably priced, displacing those already there, whose housing needs are even more constricted than theirs? A set of Hobson’s choices, for socially concerned gentrifiers.

 Schlichtman and Patch point out that some young urban researchers are reluctant to engage with questions of gentrification out of embarrassment that they are themselves gentrifiers, and thus in no position to criticize gentrification while at the same time takng advantage of it. . It is an honorable dilemma. A young researcher able to pay more for a given apartment than another with a slightly lower income may find that other justly aggrieved, but his or her refusal therefore to bid on the apartment will not help produce a more just distribution of apartments – unless it is part of a social action, e.g. for boycotting a landlord, or adopting rent controls, or endorsing or opposing a given zoning change. . Individual young researchers live in a market economy, and should conscientiously examine how their individual decisions as to where to live can best contribute to a socially just distribution of apartments, what alternatives they have, at what cost. If university-controlled space available only to university affiliates is available to them, and reasonably equivalent to gentrifying space, they should take the university unit. But they may well find that the contribution they make by refusing to contribute to gentrification by their choice of an apartment is less than the contribution they can make to limiting gentrification by their political activity, their solidarity with neighborhood movements to limit gentrification, the use they make of their research skills, including their findings from their own personal experience.

 The ethical obligation of young researchers studying gentrification does impose  other ethical obligations on them that indeed require careful attention, and whose pursuit will contribute more to curing the ills of gentrification than their choice of where to live. That is the obligation to draw conclusions from their own research, and as they learn more of the injustice that gentrification causes, to become actively engaged in the fight against it, to use their research skills to spread recognition of those injustices, to help formulate and implement the kinds of measures suggested under Transformative Ethical Societal Measures above. That’s the hard-core ethical course confronting them.

Peter Marcuse

 [1] Serious scholarly consideration largely took off from Fried, Marc. 1963. “Grieving for a Lost Home: Psychological costs of Relocation,” in Leonard J. Duhl, The Urban Condition: People and Policy in the Metropolis, New York: Basic Books, Chapter 12, pp. 151‑171; recent empirical work is well rerpesented by Fullilove, Mindy Thompson, M.D. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It.. One World/Ballantine Books, June 2004, and the work collected in The Gentrification Reader eds. Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvyn Wyle, Routledge, Milton Park, UK, 2010.

[2] For discussion of some possibilities at the local level in New York City, see Marcuse, P. (1985b) ‘To control gentrification: anti-displacement zoning and planning for stable residential districts’, Review of Law and Social Chang, 13, pp.931-945.

[3] Schlichtman, J. J. and Patch, J. (2013),” Gentrifier? Who, Me? Interrogating the Gentrifier in the Mirror.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Blog #47: Anti-Poverty Measures Alone Won’t Do

It’s good that the Nation[1] calls attention to shameful way in which our economy exploits the poor and how inadequately our government responds to the problem. But calling the problem “poverty” focuses on just half of the problem. It accepts the idea that the poor are responsible for their own problems, and government needs simply to be ‘helping families pull themselves up through hard work” to let them “climb the ladder of opportunity” (Obama in the State of the Union address). But that skirts the fact that then you have to confront the other half of the problem, the fact that the poor are so poor because the rich are so rich – the two-sided problem of inequality.

Inequality isn’t wrong per se. People are different; they don’t all have the same abilities, the same interests, the same motivations, some are able to do more than others, some have greater natural abilities than others, some need more than others for a decent life. We wouldn’t want everyone to have exactly the same incomes; that would be unfair. But we don’t want anyone to be homeless, or sick, or uneducated, or excluded from the benefits of a socially just society, just because they don’t have an adequate income. And our society is rich enough that it can afford a good bit of inequality and yet provide adequately for all. Why doesn’t it?

What makes inequality an appropriate concern for public policy is not just how much inequality there is, but what its mechanisms are and what the justice or injustice of its effects is – a sort of cost-benefit analysis of inequality. “Inequality”  is not an actor, a thing; beware the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Inequality is the result of the actions of a variety of actors, they produce ine1quality by their actions, and then inequality in turn affects others.

The gross disparity between the rich and the poor is intuitively shocking. Without reflection, most of us believe (using Rawls’ approach to defining justice) that having one person get 1,000 times more of what society produces than another person gets is on its face unfair, inequality can’t conceivably be justified at that scale by any moral standard or rational analysis.

But that intuition needs to be examined. As to moral standards or values, there’s no magic number for what the range should be. Most of us would look at the criteria by which some get more than others, the reasons for the inequality, not simply the extent of it. The question is partly one of analysis: why some are so poor, is it their own doing, are they poor or homeless or unemployed or sick or incarcerated or discriminated against when they could rectify their situation through their own efforts? If so, attention should be focused on the characteristics of the poor and how to influence their behavior. If their poverty is not subject to their remedy, if they are to a significant extent the victims of conditions outside their control, then as a matter of policy  we as a society should be concerned to make sure every individual really has the “inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”

There is I think a general consensus that such a right exists and should be implemented by e effective public anti-poverty policies. That’s one question. How we shape policies to deal with it depends further on rational analysis of the causes of the problem. Public policy will undoubtedly either increase or decrease inequality, but it’s the validity of the analysis and its moral justice that should determine what should be done, not the simple question whether a given measure leads to more or less inequality.  It’s the validity of the analysis and its moral justice that should determine what should be done, not the simple question whether it leads to more or less inequality. The discussion on this question is what the debate about anti-poverty policy and it successes or failures is all about – see Blog #43. Who Lost the War on Poverty, and Who Won It?

Poverty is only half of the issue of inequality. One person can be poor all by him or herself, but it takes two to be unequal. The relative wealth of the rich compared to the poor must take into account not only whether the poor deserve their poverty but whether the rich deserve their wealth. Again, it’s both a matter of the analysis and the moral and justice evaluation of the result.  It’s quite possible that, as a matter of analysis, it doesn’t matter to anyone else if the wealthy have private yachts and 100-room mansions, so long as the poor are not poor below some level considered adequate for a rich democracy. Having great wealth is not in itself bad or unjust.[2] ; It’s rather the social consequence of that wealth, how it was obtained, and the equality or inequality of its distribution, that should concern public policy. The question for analysis here, then, is whether it matters to the poor how rich the rich are.  Are the poor more poor because the rich are so rich, or might it even be that the poor are less poor because of the wealth of the rich, who are the “job-creators?” Again, it’s the validity of the analysis and its moral justice that should determine what should be done, not the simple question whether it leads to more or less inequality.   The discussion on this question is what the debate about inequality should be all about, but unfortunately is not. (yet?)

An exclusive focus on anti-poverty measures targeted at the poor can shift attention from exactly this discussion and its policy implications.  Addressing the role of the rich in creating and maintaining the poverty of the poor smacks of “class war,” raises uncomfortable questions about the 1% and whether they deserve to reap so disproportionate a share of the wealth that increasing productivity provides .It’s no wonder such questions are rarely raised. What’s wrong with inequality is not only that increasing wealth bypasses the poor, but that it increases their poverty.  Seriously addressing poverty requires addressing inequality at both ends, the wealth of those that have as well as the poverty of those who have not, reining in the rich as well as uplifting the poor.

An anti-poverty movement needs to be willing to say that, out loud.

Peter Marcuse[3]

[1] Greg Kaufman, “Building an Anti-Poverty Movement,” The Nation,  [February. 2, 2014]

[2] Although some religions seem to so hold: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

[3] This is a substantially revised version of a letter in The Nation, Marcuse, Peter . 2014. “Call It Anti-Inequality.” March 3, p. 26.

The discussion is extended in blogs from Blog #43 on, and will be extended in Blog #48, .What’s so Wrong About Inequality.

Blog # 45 – Consensus on Inequality Unlikely

Consensus on Inequality Unlikely

It’s good to call attention to the shameful way in which our economy exploits the poor and how inadequately our government responds to the problem.[1] But calling the problem “poverty” focuses on just half of the problem. It accepts the idea that the poor are responsible for their own problems, and government ‘helping families pull themselves up through hard work’ will let them ‘climb the ladder of opportunity’ ” (Obama in the State of the Union message).. But that skirts the fact that the poor are so poor today because the rich are so rich, because the poor have been exploited by the rich for so long, because inequality is so great..

The focus on poverty can obscure that important conclusion. Not by accident. Criticizing the rich smacks of “class war,” raises uncomfortable questions about the 1% and whether they deserve to reap so disproportionate a share of the wealth the increasing productivity of the 99% provides. Seriously addressing inequality rather than just poverty would undercut the President’s justification of inequality in that message, that “we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success.” Even if their efforts come from financial and employment practices that cause wide-spread low pay and joblessness from which the poor suffer?

Tackling poverty involves tackling inequality, involves tackling the wealth of the rich as well as the poverty of the poor. An anti-poverty movement needs to be willing to say that, out loud.  An inequality reduction strategy has some win-win aspects (see Keynesian arguments), but it has some win-lose aspects too, and the rich prospective losers are likely to fight it. Consensus won’t be reached. That has to be faced by any ultimately effective anti-poverty program.[2]

Peter Marcuse

[1] As in: “Building an Anti-Poverty Movement” The Nation, February. 2, 2014

[2] An expansion of this argument is at Blot #44, “Poverty or Inequality,” at