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Affordable Housing Is a Moral Choice (and the Numbers Prove It)

A new tool shows that developers can profit by building affordable housing almost anywhere.
Jennifer Bradley of the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation, left, and George W. “Mac” McCarthy of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, speak at the CityLab 2015 summit in London.
Jennifer Bradley of the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation, left, and George W. “Mac” McCarthy of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, speak at the CityLab 2015 summit in London. Melanie Leigh Wilbur

It can feel like a mantra among private developers: Requirements by municipal governments to include affordable units in market-rate housing developments make those developments unprofitable, even unfeasible. It may be one of the most frequently repeated claims about housing in general. Can it possibly be right?

That’s the question that Jennifer Bradley, founding director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Aspen Institute, posed during an afternoon session Monday at The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit in London. As it turns out, it’s not a rhetorical question. Affordable housing isn’t a profit proposition. It’s a question of morals.