NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Get Rid of Zoning Laws

March 25, 2014

Without zoning laws, building height restrictions, parking requirements and maximum occupancy rules, the supply of housing in the United States would increase, prices and rents would drop, and national gross domestic product would ultimately rise, says Nathan Smith, professor of economics and finance at Fresno Pacific University.

Government interference with land use leads to a number of problems, including negative impacts on the poor.

  • Families are prevented from using their dollars to sleep multiple people in a room or convert single-family homes into multifamily units, all because of zoning laws.
  • And with high property taxes and expensive construction codes, housing becomes less affordable.

Smith describes the rationale behind zoning: one person's land use can affect his neighbor's quality of life. A yard filled with flowers is positive for the entire neighborhood; a yard filled with trash is not. But a city does not need planning agencies to set zoning restrictions to deal with these issues. Replacing zoning laws with a free market would ultimately lead to the most efficient outcomes, as developers and residents bargain for property rights.

People can determine whether living six-to-a-room is tolerable, and those who want to live in rural areas should be able to -- not kept from settling there because a city has zoned the area "exclusive agricultural." People and markets, not central planners, can decide which lifestyles fit them best.

Source: Nathan Smith, "Zoned Out," Foundation for Economic Education, March 18, 2014.


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