NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Zoning Kills Affordable Housing

May 13, 2013

Across the country, established residents and homeowners are shooting down ideas for new affordable development that would meet market demands while providing jobs. A new book, Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate, delves into how homeowners use zoning laws to stop new low-cost homes, says John Ross of Reason Magazine.

  • Neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes are particularly hostile to any new development of multifamily dwellings.
  • Regardless of whether towns are affluent or working class, local residents overwhelmingly object to new development, regardless of the justified need.

In Darien, Connecticut, for instance, the town's senior housing center had a long wait list, as did the last condo development built in 1994. Despite the demonstrated need, residents halted any forward progress on senior living project.

  • Local residents employ zoning laws that mandate minimum lot sizes and keep entire towns out of reach for all but the wealthy.
  • In some well-to-do towns, the working poor live in tents during the summer because zoning laws restrict the building of any new apartment buildings.
  • If the market were truly free, low-cost housing would exist, if not for the zoning laws that allow existing residents to keep "undesirables" from living in their neighborhoods.

In Massachusetts, if less than 10 percent of the housing meets the state's definition of affordable, developers can bypass land-use restrictions. Developers who set aside 25 percent of their units for low- and moderate-income residents can also receive tax exemptions and subsidized loans. Despite these types of legal provisions in Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states, there is still not enough affordable housing to meet the market's demand.

  • In the book, the villain is most frequently the local snob, whose objection to development is steadfast and unwavering, usually on the grounds that new development will ruin the town's character.
  • Opponents of development also cite the effect multifamily housing has on the local water supply and schools.
  • The book offers little reason to hope that zoning codes will be relaxed, though in select cities renters are beginning to penetrate traditionally single-family home neighborhoods.

Source: John Ross, "Zoning Kills Affordable Housing," Reason Magazine, May 7, 2013.


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