Zoning by a Thousand Cuts
66 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2021 Last revised: 30 May 2023
Date Written: February 24, 2021
Zoning is increasingly viewed as a constraint on the nation’s housing supply, and as zoning enters its second century, there is a strong drumbeat for reform. Across the country, reformers have targeted the elimination of single-family zoning, pointing to re- search showing that single-family zoning drives up development costs, degrades the environment, and homogenizes communities.
While allowing more multi-family options could help address these issues, reformers should not exclusively focus on the elimina- tion of single-family zoning. Process requirements including man- datory public hearings, and substantive requirements involving lot configuration, building size, and occupancy, among other things, play a significant role in determining whether and what residential development occurs. Understanding the prevalence and nature of these aspects of zoning codes will help reformers identify the most impactful policy reforms. Unfortunately, most current zoning re- search offers only unreliable or incomplete data about the panoply of regulations that mold residential development.
This Article’s central contribution is to start filling this information gap with a detailed empirical analysis of the many hid- den constraints on housing embedded in zoning codes. It involves a one-of-a-kind statewide dataset, tied to geospatial layers of zoning districts, developed with methods that attempt to overcome the reli- ability and comprehensiveness flaws of prior research. By combin- ing regulatory and spatial analysis, this Article shows how zoning kills housing by a thousand cuts. It closes by calling for a national zoning atlas, which could better illuminate the scope and effects of zoning across a broader range of jurisdictions than this Article co- vers.
Keywords: zoning, districts, local government, housing, single-family, empirical, parking, accessory dwelling
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