Gainesville’s zoning stands the same today as a year ago, but it took a year full of debate, split commission votes and repeal ordinances to get here.
Another housing initiative on deck is in the final discussion phase at the City Plan Board, which will then pass it to the Gainesville City Commission. Known as inclusionary zoning, this housing policy has more to do with affordable rental units than actually redrawing the city’s zoning map.
Inclusionary zoning isn’t a new concept. Since its start in the 1970s, more than 1,000 jurisdictions nationwide have put mandatory inclusionary zoning policies in place. Locally, Gainesville has already approved some developments with inclusionary zoning, but so far, the city has only used this tool on a voluntary basis.
Cities and counties that use mandatory inclusionary zoning require developers to set aside a certain number of units as affordable, or a below market rate. Lower income residents can then afford to live in the same complex, and these extra units could help housing agencies move people off their wait lists and into homes. Gainesville’s policy, as presented to the City Plan Board, would only impact rental units.
Plan Board Member Joshua Ney called the inclusionary zoning policy a step in the right direction, but he says the policy needs to be considered carefully.
“I’m worried because I’ve read about other inclusionary zoning policies, and they’ve made it so that stuff doesn’t get built,” Ney said in an interview.
Ney also serves as a lead for the nonprofit Gainesville Is For People, a local chapter of the national Yes In My Backyard movement. He said the policy will create affordable units but not enough to reach his long-term goal of housing abundance and affordability.
He said inclusionary zoning should be less controversial than last year’s ordinances that turned all of the city’s single-family zoning into a new neighborhood residential category.
“I think it can be a good short-term housing policy if it’s well designed, which I think this policy is honestly well designed,” Ney said. “But I think it’s going to let this current commission, that’s kind of anti-housing, off the hook.”
With a 4-3 majority, the current commission pushed for a housing policy reset, saying the fresh start will allow new community discussion and tackling housing policies one at a time. Ney and Gainesville Is For People supported the 2022 commission and the end of single-family zoning.
Local governments like inclusionary zoning because it requires no upfront cost or subsidy to the city. Florida law requires cities and counties to reimburse developers for the inclusionary zoning units, but usually that reimbursement looks like reduced permit fees and giving density bonuses.
The bonuses can allow developers to sometimes build more units per acre than the underlying zoning currently allows, offsetting costs from the affordable housing units.
Alachua County implemented density bonuses, lower connection fees and other incentives for developers who voluntarily use inclusionary zoning, but county staff reported in December 2022 that the incentives haven’t been touched.
Because of that, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved a $50,000 study on mandatory inclusionary zoning. Staff said the study should take about five months.
Gainesville seems a step ahead. The City Commission hired a firm to conduct a housing study that finished at the end of 2021. That study looked at both inclusionary and exclusionary zoning, directly leading to last year’s vote to end single-family zoning. With that decision reversed, the city can set its sights on inclusionary zoning and other housing changes.
The City Plan Board has already discussed inclusionary zoning at several meetings, voting in June to wait for more data before passing the item to the City Commission. That data could inform the exact percentages used in the inclusionary zoning policy.
The outline presented to the plan board in June would require 10% affordable units for all developments with 10 or more units. So, a developer proposing a 200-unit complex would set 20 units aside as affordable. The city could compensate by then allowing the developer to build extra units, taking the development above 200 units.
The 2021 report, completed by HR&A Advisors, recommended that percentage and unit threshold. The report also cautioned against placing too strict restrictions causing a reduction in any type of development.
“IZ [inclusionary zoning] does not work in weaker housing markets and submarkets, where an overly restrictive IZ policy risks decreasing housing development, which ultimately harms affordability by both failing to deliver the mandated IZ units and limiting overall housing supply,” the report says.
HR&A Advisors note that strict housing policies could push developers to build on the other side of political boundaries, like Alachua County or outlying cities without inclusionary zoning policies. The report also said that a 10% inclusionary zoning policy from 2018 through 2020 would have produced 250 affordable housing units.
The city is aiming to house people making around 80% of the area’s median income–$90,800 according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This means the income would need to be $48,550 for a single person, $55,500 for a family of two, $62,450 for a family of three and $69,350 for a family of four.
Before going into effect, Gainesville’s inclusionary zoning policy will need a final City Plan Board vote along with multiple votes at the City Commission stage.
When asked about inclusionary zoning efforts earlier this year, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she wants to see an inclusive process.
“People are not sure of what inclusionary zoning is and how it would impact their neighborhoods,” she said. “There’s an education process that must take place first. But there’s an opportunity, if we take the time to bring people to the table.”