The Motives for Exclusionary Zoning

106 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2019 Last revised: 18 Sep 2019

Date Written: September 2019


Exclusionary zoning, land use rules which restrict affordable housing, define American suburbia. Such zoning disproportionately prevents people of color from living in the suburbs. While legal scholars widely acknowledge this harm, the disparities are typically seen as unintentional. The motives for exclusionary zoning are seen as either economic, environmental, or — at worst — rooted in a race-neutral desire to exclude the poor.

This Article challenges that consensus by detailing the history of a zoning ordinance in upstate New York, one famously described as race-neutral in the landmark 1975 case Warth v. Seldin. That history challenges not only Supreme Court’s conclusion in Warth, but also the traditional understanding of what motivates exclusionary zoning. The complex and unexpected relationship between class, race, and Penfield’s turn toward exclusion suggests that racism deserves to be reconsidered as a potential central motivator behind exclusionary zoning ordinances.

Keywords: zoning, exclusionary, race, class, land use, suburbs, warth, seldin, mobility, legal history

Suggested Citation

Dwyer Reynolds, Conor, The Motives for Exclusionary Zoning (September 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Conor Dwyer Reynolds (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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