The options we have for housing are determined, in part, by the houses and apartment buildings that developers choose to build. But what they are allowed to build is controlled, in turn, by varying zoning laws across the country. The zoning code a city or town chooses to adopt can have a dramatic effect on what’s possible…and what’s affordable. A new video from our friends at the Institute for Humane Studies illustrates this quite well.
Zoning officials often tell us that their rules are simply neutral guidelines meant to protect public safety and welfare, when in fact they are targeted and discriminatory, meant to subsidize some kinds of development and punish, or forbid, others. As my colleague Daniel Press wrote earlier this week, related government policies on housing and mortgage finance have also attempted to gerrymander residential communities into an “ideal” shape, which in the past has had extremely unsavory effects, such as the exclusion of non-white families from many communities or from homeownership at all. Even the more benign forms of urban planning can force urban dwellers to make sacrifieces that would be unnecessary, less expensive to deal with, or easier to avoid in a less-regulated environment.