Planning Regimes, Affordability and Sustainability
What about the abilities of these differing regimes to deliver a significant level of affordable housing through inclusionary mechanisms that promote socially and environmentally sustainable communities? Our prior expectation would be that more discretionary systems allow greater scope for using planning powers to require developments to include specified amounts and types of affordable housing. Zoning systems give landowners a right to develop within the zoning parameters for lot size, plot ratio, building line, etc. Why would a landowner want to give some of this up to subsidise some affordable units? The only way would be through some trade-off with requirements introduced when zones are first legislated or amended to enable a higher quantity of housing. This intensification of housing development may, in turn, stimulate local opposition whilst the affordability requirement is equally likely to be resisted in the first instance at least, by developers. We would also have a prior expectation that regimes with greater public ownership of development land would be more conducive to the delivery of affordable housing, insofar as the state/public sector has responsibilities towards lower-income groups and others with particular needs, and may have an established organisation and mission to deliver social/affordable housing. However, this need not apply in all cases—the public bodies holding the land may be more interested in maximising returns, for fiscal reasons in general or to enable the pursuit of their particular mission (e.g. building infrastructure).
On the third dimension, and somewhat more tentatively, we would suggest that more localist systems would be less good at promoting affordable housing through inclusionary mechanisms, because comfortable local voters would resist housing for the poor in their areas (particularly, as noted earlier, if automatically linked to intensification of existing suburban areas). More central or regionally based planning policies and standards could be expected to be a more reliable way of delivering such housing. However, experience in some case study countries suggests a more nuanced pattern. For example, national level government policy, based on particular ideology about the role and limits of planning, or under the influence of industry lobbying, may be less enthusiastic about inclusionary housing than some local authorities (as has been the case in Australia). Similarly, experience in England showed that affordable housing policies originated at local level and were taken up keenly by a large number and range of local authorities. This partly reflected the legacy of local authorities as bodies with strong responsibilities for meeting housing needs, but also factors like the ability to target housing on ‘local needs’ (people with a local connection), ‘key workers’ to support public services or economic development (e.g. in rural areas) and ‘low- cost home ownership (LCHO)’ to help young people get onto the home ownership ladder. The US experience also highlights the importance of local or regional initiatives in delivering an inclusionary housing agenda in cities such as New York and San Francisco.
So our first take on this suggests that discretionary regimes with mainly public land ownership and more centralised governance would be best for affordable housing provision, whilst zoning regimes with mainly private land and localised governance would be the least fertile territory. Some of the country case studies bear this out, for example, Hong Kong at one extreme and Australia towards the other. Ireland would be expected to be similar but did, in fact, legislate for a general affordable housing mechanism (‘Part V’), only to see this undermined by implementation weaknesses and then being overwhelmed by a particularly severe financial crisis. Spain legislated for quite strong policies but was similarly impacted by the crisis. In the USA, a generally adverse type of regime has still seen significant initiatives at regional (state or city-region) level and/or at local level, but generally these have worked better where state government takes a stronger role.