Keeping the Underclass in its Place: Zoning, the Poor, and Residential Segregation

41 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2009

See all articles by David Ray Papke

David Ray Papke

Marquette University - Law School

Date Written: April 5, 2009


This article discusses the ways suburban zoning keeps the underclass out of the suburbs. The article begins by discussing the complex and sometimes contentious notion of an "underclass," which became part of popular and political discourse in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This socio-economic group is defined not by race but rather by the group's weak ties to the labor market. The article continues by considering the specific steps suburban zoning officials take to make it impossible for members of the underclass to find low-cost rental housing in the suburbs. The article then explores the possibility of challenging these zoning practices by invoking federal constitutional law standards, concluding that challenges of this sort hold little promise. In conclusion, the article addresses what might be accomplished not only by keeping the urban poor out of the suburbs but also by keeping them in the center-city. The article does not critique lines of legal reasoning or propose law reform but rather captures an oppressive aspect of American life and underscores the role law plays in it.

Keywords: zoning, underclass, suburbs, rental housing, urban poor

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Papke, David Ray, Keeping the Underclass in its Place: Zoning, the Poor, and Residential Segregation (April 5, 2009). Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 09-13. Available at SSRN:

David Ray Papke (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States

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