Social Offsets and Inclusionary Zoning

Q: How is this different than inclusionary zoning (i.e. for every 10 units built, a developer must build one for affordable housing) or density bonusing where cities will give developers increased density in exchange for an amenity (i.e. cash for an affordable housing fund)?

A: The key difference between the above approaches and social offsets is the ownership and accountability taken by individual citizens in the community. Zoning and bonusing are institutional measures that are imposed by governments on citizens’ behalf.

In contrast, social offsets are explicitly designed to be community driven:

  • New community residents (the new condo purchasers) are investing in a more inclusive community
  • Existing community residents have the opportunity to engage in the local community through co-operative home ownership

This extends a fundamental principle of Community Economic Development: community engagement and empowerment. In addition, it means that this project could start immediately and make an impact in providing affordable housing. Zoning and bonusing, while valuable, take time in lobbying governments, enacting by-laws and legislation, implementation and enforcement costs and more.

Additionally, both of these approaches “force” developers into the affordable housing – an area in which they are not comfortable and not necessarily going to make the best effort to deliver. Social offsets provides a mechanism for community members to actively participate in the creation of a liveable, affordable, diverse and empowered community


2 responses to “Social Offsets and Inclusionary Zoning

  1. If part of what you want to encourage is broader community engagement with the issue of affordability, why limit the purchase of offsets to those who are buying a new home?

    As homeowners profit from the appreciation in the value of their homes, they can take the opportunity to give some of these profits back to those who are disadvantaged by rising market values for homes. Buying social offsets once a year — perhaps with a suggested percentage of their home’s increased value — could enable homeowners to give others the chance they were fortunate enough to have when homes (in Vancouver particularly) were more moderately priced. A property tax break, if it could be arranged with a progressive city council, would be a great incentive too.

    This could meet one of the challenges with social offsets: the small number of homebuyers every year who would be inclined towards offsetting their choices. Opening the program up to homeowners as well as buyers would definitely increase the pool of potential offsetters.

  2. socialoffsets

    This is a great point.

    For me, it opens the question of the “offsets” name. I think it would be harder for an existing homeowner to see their contribution as offsetting a choice given that they chose to live in a given neighbourhood at some time in the past. Perhaps the concept could be described more as adding to a fund than an offset as strictly defined.

    I really like the idea of tying to a property tax break. That would help make concrete the link between municipal policies and individual actions.

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