Mandating Access to Affordable Housing, City by City
In 2000, France’s legislature passed the Loi relative à la Solidarité et au renouvellement urbains (SRU) law, a housing affordability requirement for many municipalities across the country. The law was designed to tackle not only high costs of living by increasing access to subsidized housing in cities with expensive markets, but also social segregation and exclusion by evening out the distribution of such units. After a 2013 reform, the law mandated that a large share of urban jurisdictions dedicate at least 25 percent of their overall housing units as affordable (social) housing by 2025—and demonstrate progress in the meantime—or face central-government penalties, including budgetary fines and the use of eminent domain to site new affordable housing. The SRU is a stronger affordability mandate than any U.S. state has implemented, including the fair-share initiatives introduced by Massachusetts and New Jersey, and it goes beyond the inclusionary zoning rules in place in many cities since it applies not just to new construction but rather to all housing units.
In this research, I conduct the first comprehensive evaluation of this reform’s effectiveness while examining its relevance to the United States, where problems such as segregation and exclusion are arguably even more entrenched. I first ask, did the SRU law successfully spread subsidized housing more equitably across metropolitan areas, reducing low-income unit concentration in suburban banlieues while increasing the share of such units in high-income municipalities? Second, what is the implementation potential of a similar legal requirement in the United States?
In order to conduct this research, I harnessed descriptive data, multivariate regressions, and difference-in-difference analyses to assess the influence of the law on subsidized unit locations. I find that the law has indeed produced an evening-out in the distribution of subsidized housing in urban areas throughout France—increasing the share of affordable housing in communities with few such units and reducing it in communities with many of them. The flattening of the social-housing distribution has occurred even as the total number of subsidized units in impacted communities has remained relatively flat over time. The law has resulted in an increase in the social-housing share by more than five-fold in France’s wealthiest cities—though progress thus far indicates that, despite the enforcement of penalties, the goals of the SRU will not be met by the 2025 deadline. I then examine urban areas in the state of Connecticut, showing that the concentration of subsidized units is far deeper than in France. Finally, I estimate what the implementation of a law like the SRU could accomplish in that state.