A Way Forward on Housing

Richard D. Kahlenberg

Current Issue

American housing policy is a mess. Although housing already constitutes the largest budget item for most families, government artificially inflates the prices of homes by suppressing their supply. In many regions, housing has become unaffordable for low-income and working-class Americans, and for young middle-class adults starting out in life. Rich and poor increasingly live apart, driving unequal educational opportunities and political and racial polarization. Because housing can be prohibitively expensive in the most economically productive regions of the country, many Americans are no longer moving to opportunity; instead, they move for affordability.

Potential solutions are controversial. Democrats and Republicans tend to differ on matters like rent control, funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher program, and efforts to desegregate residential areas through the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule under the Fair Housing Act.

Intriguing possibilities of bipartisan reform, however, have emerged in one area of housing policy: local zoning barriers that inhibit housing growth and exclude people by income (and, in turn, often by race as well). Several states and localities have adopted zoning reforms in recent years, frequently with support from both parties. The federal government has also devoted some attention and funding to the issue.

This is a startling development. While researchers and housing experts have long seen exclusionary zoning as a significant problem, politicians have been terrified of confronting "Not in My Backyard" (NIMBY) forces that oppose constructing more housing. Indeed, the old bipartisan consensus on housing was that neither side would get anywhere near zoning reform.

But as the price of housing has continued to skyrocket, the political dynamics have changed. In the past five years, multiple cities and states have moved to legalize "missing middle" housing (such as duplexes and triplexes) and reduce other barriers to home ownership (such as off-street parking requirements). The idea that policies like exclusive zoning for single-family homes could never be reformed has begun to crumble.

In 2018, Minneapolis became the first major city to legalize missing-middle housing. Soon afterward, the floodgates burst open. Policymakers have since enacted similar reforms in the blue states of Oregon, California, Washington, and Vermont, and the left-leaning localities of Charlotte, North Carolina; Arlington, Virginia; and Montgomery County, Maryland. They have also done so in red states like Montana, Arkansas, and Utah. Even the U.S. Congress addressed the issue in 2022 by creating a modest $85 million fund to help finance local zoning reform and "Yes in My Backyard" (YIMBY) efforts. The measure garnered bipartisan support.

The politics of reform are tricky; powerful factions that are deeply resistant to change remain within both parties. On the left, some are suspicious of zoning reform because it relies on market deregulation. They worry that more market-based housing construction will accelerate gentrification and the displacement of disadvantaged and minority communities. On the right, some Republican leaders — most notably former president Donald Trump — have tried to demagogue the issue, claiming that zoning reform will "abolish the suburbs."

Despite tensions within both parties, the American housing crisis has reached such a dire state that the need for reform can no longer be ignored. Opportunities for bipartisan action abound. To capitalize on them, reform advocates would benefit from a greater understanding of the forces endorsing change within each party, the sources of resistance on both the left and the right, and the successes of reformers in several states and localities in recent years. Applying the lessons learned from those state and local efforts could translate into meaningful bipartisan support for federal policies that bring about further revisions to local zoning laws.

BIPARTISAN CONSENSUS

Bipartisan momentum for zoning reform has been building for several years now on Capitol Hill. In October 2021, I joined four other witnesses in testifying before a House committee at a hearing titled "Zoned Out: Examining the Impact of Exclusionary Zoning on People, Resources, and Opportunity." Led by Democratic representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri (then the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance), the hearing featured both Republicans and Democrats expressing support for reducing exclusionary zoning. House liberals championed zoning reform as a way to combat racial and economic segregation and improve educational opportunities, while conservatives backed it as a form of government deregulation that would reduce housing prices.

Partisanship was by no means absent at the hearing, of course. Members couldn't help but bicker over related housing issues, such as rent control and federal subsidies for affordable housing. But both sides agreed that exclusionary zoning is a significant problem that must be addressed.

Zoning reform offers a unique case study in how to break through the usual deadlock that prevents compromise between the parties. Democrats and Republicans typically disagree in fundamental ways about the degree to which public policy should prioritize equality or liberty — values that often exist in tension with each other. Exclusionary zoning, however, is one of the rare practices that offends both principles.

Rescinding exclusionary zoning is deeply egalitarian because it supports the notion that people should not be discriminated against by local governments because of their race or income. Zoning reform also channels the fundamental American idea that even if people don't make the same amount of money, they are social equals. Americans readily call each other by their first names, for example, in a way that people in other countries simply don't. "Equality is the first truth of our founding document," journalist George Packer notes, "the one that leads to all the others." This egalitarian thread is itself bipartisan: It challenges discriminatory beliefs that some races are better than others, and the elitist idea that highly educated coastal residents are more enlightened than everyone else.

Opponents of exclusionary zoning also tap into the abiding American belief in liberty. Ending economically discriminatory zoning can be seen as a form of deregulation because it gives people greater latitude to do what they want with their property. This appeals to small-government conservatives and libertarians alike. Uniting equality and liberty constitutes a powerful combination in American politics.

SUPPORT ON THE RIGHT

Republican committee members and witnesses at the October 2021 House hearing expressed broadly held conservative sentiments that emphasized the ways government zoning regulations artificially inflate housing prices, increase homelessness, and unfairly limit the supply of less expensive types of housing.

Restrictive zoning regulations — including bans on apartment construction, large lot-size requirements for new homes, and minimum parking requirements — limit housing supply, and thereby "needlessly increase the cost of housing for millions of Americans," as Emily Hamilton of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University pointed out. They are especially common in large metropolitan areas; Representative French Hill of Arkansas noted as much at the hearing. Representative Bryan Steil of Wisconsin agreed: "Democratic-controlled cities across the United States," he observed, "have really strict zoning rules and regulations that seem to be driving up the costs." He cited findings from a 2018 study indicating that "regulations can add up to $93,000 of costs to a home" — effectively a "tax on new housing."

Naturally, increased housing prices make it more difficult to purchase a home. The consequences are dire for the most vulnerable populations. As Hamilton observed at the hearing, homelessness "is not highest in the parts of the country where poverty is highest. It is instead highest in parts of the country where exclusionary zoning rules are most binding."

By creating housing scarcity and driving up prices, zoning regulations also make it more costly for the federal government to subsidize housing through initiatives like the Housing Choice Voucher program. They also limit the availability of cheaper housing alternatives like manufactured housing — a category that includes trailer homes and more permanent pre-fabricated structures. Representative John Rose of Tennessee called manufactured housing "the most affordable homeownership option available nationwide for minorities and underserved and low-income borrowers," and expressed particular outrage against local rules that ban such housing. Hamilton echoed Rose's criticism and endorsed actions in states like Nebraska that "permit manufactured homes on all residential lots across the state."

Republican officials in the executive branch have voiced similar concerns. Ben Carson, former president Trump's HUD secretary, visited Minneapolis in June 2019, shortly after it became the first major city to eliminate single-family exclusive zoning. Carson urged other cities to follow suit: "Look at some of the places that have the biggest homelessness problems," he said, "like Los Angeles, where 80 percent of the land is zoned for single-family housing, with a certain amount of property." "The more zoning restrictions and regulations," he added, "the higher the prices and the more homeless people." That same month, Trump signed an executive order creating the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing, headed by Carson, to study exclusionary zoning laws.

Libertarians were also enthusiastic about the Minneapolis plan. Writing in Reason magazine, Christian Britschgi hailed the city's new law as an embodiment of "libertarian policies" and "one of the most deregulatory housing reforms in the country." He wrote that supporters of free markets "should celebrate the vote."

Libertarians more broadly are part of the "emerging cross-ideological consensus on zoning," as Ilya Somin of George Mason University puts it. After all, zoning restrictions may be "the single biggest constraint in many parts of the country on people's ability to build what they want on their own property." Libertarians have gained public support for reducing exclusionary zoning by pitching reform as part of the property-rights movement, which, over the past decade and a half, has won several state ballot initiatives.

Fiscal conservatives have long championed zoning reform as a means of removing barriers to growth and achieving fiscal balance. Research has shown that housing regulations impose a staggering economic cost on American society, jacking up housing prices in high-productivity cities like New York, San Jose, and San Francisco. Removing such restrictions promotes housing growth and enlarges the tax base, thereby reducing government deficits. A 2019 study by Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti found that if the three cities mentioned relaxed restrictions on housing supply by, say, allowing more multi-family housing, workers could move to high-wage areas, and average wages nationally would rise an astounding $8,775.

Indeed, the strong threads in conservative thought that oppose overly restrictive government zoning may help explain why, historically, the most exclusionary zoning policies are found in politically liberal areas. Brookings senior fellow Jenny Schuetz observed in 2022 that "overly restrictive zoning is most prevalent and problematic along the West Coast and the Northeast corridor from Washington D.C. to Boston." These areas "lean heavily Democratic in national, state and local elections." Studies that examine the severity of zoning within states — in California, for example — also find that the most restrictive regulations are concentrated in the more politically liberal cities.

SUPPORT ON THE LEFT

Although liberals have historically supported more restrictive zoning, some politicians on the left have begun to champion zoning reform. Liberals share conservatives' and libertarians' concerns about unaffordable housing prices and homelessness, but they also have a distinct set of principles that reforming zoning laws would advance.

Liberals tend to emphasize the discriminatory effects of zoning regulations on low-income Americans, racial minorities, and other constituencies they support. For example, rising home prices often exclude public-sector workers from the communities they serve. "[I]f you look at our first responders, they can no longer afford to live in communities they protect," said Congressman Cleaver at the House hearing. "[F]ar too many teachers and firefighters and police officers cannot afford to pay the real estate prices where they are living." In fact, "only one of the country's largest 50 metro areas, Pittsburgh, requires less than 30 percent of a starting teacher's salary for housing."

Most Americans today understand that white mobs committed a grave moral offense when they attempted to prevent black children from attending desegregated schools in the 1960s-era South. Such discrimination still exists in the present day, albeit in a less visible form. Zoning rules create what I call "walls we don't see," which shut out low-income and working-class families (many of them persons of color) from living in safe neighborhoods with good schools. Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin noted that these walls exist because of "the vested interests and expectations of people who live in poverty-free havens."

Liberals also link exclusionary zoning to past policies that have hurt people of color. Democratic representative Maxine Waters of California, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee at the time the hearing was held, gave voice to this sentiment: "It began with enslaving, and later segregating, my ancestors, stripping our indigenous brothers and sisters from their land, and redlining people of color out of homeownership. And it continues today with restrictive and exclusionary zoning policies."

Liberal concerns about class and race converge in the issue of education. Democratic representative Ritchie Torres of New York put it this way: "Exclusionary zoning produces and perpetuates housing segregation by race and class, which in turn produces and perpetuates school segregation by race and class." Since so many students attend neighborhood public schools, exclusionary zoning leads to inequality in schooling.

Such rules also harm Americans with mental disorders. Dora Leong Gallo, president and CEO of A Community of Friends, emphasized this in her testimony. "Discrimination against people with mental illness is repeatedly couched in land use terms," she observed. Indeed, opponents of housing for these individuals will often invoke zoning laws and the "character of their neighborhood" to prevent construction of permanent supportive housing for Americans with mental illness.

In other settings, liberals have noted the ways in which exclusionary zoning damages the planet. Artificially increasing housing prices often pushes those who work in major metropolitan areas out to the periphery in search of an affordable home, which leads to longer commutes. Restrictive zoning thus contributes to higher automobile emissions. Moreover, exclusionary zoning bans multi-family units and thereby prohibits, by government fiat, the construction of the types of housing that are easier to heat and cool than single-family homes are, thus further harming the environment.

In sum, both conservatives and liberals are recognizing that zoning reform can advance their distinct agendas. It appears to be one of those opportunities where, to quote AEI's Yuval Levin, "different groups in our society can arrive at the same policy conclusion from distinctly different directions." Since bipartisan efforts addressing the issue are unlikely to be the result of typical split-the-difference negotiations, eliminating exclusionary zoning could prove to be a particularly strong cause for a cross-party coalition.

RESISTANCE TO REFORM

Despite the emerging bipartisan interest in altering zoning rules, advocates must grapple with the reality that different factions within both the Democratic and Republican parties remain skeptical of land-use reform.

Among Democrats, three constituencies could scuttle reform efforts. The first consists of those on the far left who oppose zoning reform because they would rather increase housing supply by prioritizing subsidized housing over market-oriented reforms. The second camp consists of advocates for low-income and minority communities who fear that loosening restrictions on zoning rules will accelerate gentrification and displace families living in impoverished areas.

The third and final group opposing reform includes highly educated and affluent suburban homeowners, who believe they benefit economically from exclusionary zoning. In the past, Democrats were the party of farmers and blue-collar workers; they did not care much about the concerns of wealthy suburbanites. But that reality has changed dramatically over time. In 1960, John Kennedy won working-class white voters but lost white college graduates two to one. By the 2020 election, those numbers had reversed: The New York Times' Nate Cohn explained that Joe Biden "lost white voters without a degree by a two-to-one margin while winning white college graduates." Between 2012 and 2020, the Democratic Party's support among college-educated white voters rose by 16 points, while its advantage among non-white working-class voters declined by 19 points. In 2022, for the first time in recent memory, Democrats received a larger share of their backing from college-educated white voters than from non-white voters.

Among Republicans, a powerful populist faction led by Donald Trump has spoken out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of zoning. On the one hand, Trump's instinctual skepticism about regulation influenced his initial decision to create a presidential commission to reform zoning. On the other, Trump's political opportunism led him to try campaigning against zoning reform later on through racially tinged appeals to white suburban voters.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Trump attempted to court these voters by saying he would protect them from Biden's attempt to "eliminate[e] single-family zoning." Trump focused on two policies that Biden had championed: an Obama-era AFFH rule, which required localities receiving federal funds to come up with plans to reduce segregation; and Democratic senator Cory Booker's HOME Act, which would condition federal infrastructure funding on whether a community reduces exclusionary zoning.

After repealing his predecessor's AFFH rule, Trump tweeted the following: "I am happy to inform all of the people living in their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood." If the rule had not been rescinded, Trump said AFFH would be "bringing who knows what into your suburbs, so communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down." He added that people "have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they're going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I'm here."

Trump attacked the Booker legislation, too, claiming the senator would become HUD secretary in a Biden administration and re-implement the AFFH rule "in a bigger form." Biden's support of the HOME Act drew the ire of National Review writer Stanley Kurtz, who wrote that Booker's bill went "much further than AFFH" and was part of a larger effort to "abolish America's suburbs." Trump appeared to love the phrase and adopted it as his own. In August 2020, he teamed up with Ben Carson to co-author a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the headline "We'll Protect America's Suburbs." The piece denounced Minneapolis's move to end exclusionary single-family zoning despite Carson's praise of the city's efforts just months earlier.

That same month, the Republican National Convention featured a presentation by Mark and Patricia McCloskey — the gun-brandishing couple from St. Louis who had been charged for pointing weapons at Black Lives Matter demonstrators. They spoke in support of gun rights and the police, which was predictable. But then, out of the blue, Patricia McCloskey steered the discussion in a different direction — warning that Biden's desire to end "single-family home zoning" would bring "crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into now-thriving suburban neighborhoods."

STATE-LEVEL REFORMS

Proponents of abolishing exclusionary zoning thus face significant headwinds in their attempts to persuade anti-reform factions within each political party. They should be heartened, however, by recent efforts at the state and local levels, where pro-housing forces in both parties have succeeded in loosening zoning restrictions.

On the left, Democratic reformers have in many (though not all) cases been able to bring along opponents of gentrification and defeat NIMBY suburban voices, while state and local Republican reformers have departed from Trump's opposition to zoning changes. Some Republicans expressed support for zoning reform in the lead up to the 2020 election; more have done so since then. Perhaps this was in part because Trump's demagogic appeals fell flat: In 2020, Biden saw a nine-point gain in white suburban voters relative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Most of the zoning reform efforts have occurred in blue cities, such as Minneapolis and Charlotte, and blue states, such as Washington, Vermont, Oregon, and California. This makes sense: Blue states have the strictest zoning regimes, and therefore the most severe crises in housing affordability. But Republicans have been indispensable partners in several of these states. By examining why Republicans joined Democrats for reform in the blue states of Oregon, California, Washington, and Vermont, reformers can glean important lessons about how to form cross-party coalitions to curtail exclusionary zoning. Similar efforts to pass zoning deregulation policies in the red states of Arkansas, Montana, and Utah are also worth a closer look.

In 2019 Tina Kotek, Oregon's House speaker at the time and now the state's governor, led an intentionally bipartisan working group that designed zoning-reform legislation. The coalition for zoning changes included left-leaning groups like Habitat for Humanity, AARP, and the NAACP, as well as business groups like the Oregon Association of Realtors and the Oregon Home Builders Association. Their support was viewed as especially important for motivating Republican legislators.

This endorsement was not foreordained, however. Interests can be divided within each of those communities, and the politics of realtors and developers are complicated. A group of Boston University researchers note that "developers and realtors...stand to reap enormous profits from the construction of more housing." But neither industry is monolithic. "Large developers, for example, may actually benefit from a more complicated regulatory structure that prices out smaller operations." Meanwhile, "some realtors may favor a higher volume of sales, while others may actually prefer a tight real estate stock featuring many bidding wars and fast sales." But in Oregon, both builders and realtor groups ultimately backed reform.

Bipartisan reform also became a possibility in Oregon thanks to an emerging populist coalition. Michael Andersen, a senior housing and transportation researcher at the Sightline Institute, observed that the reform coalition included "an alliance of Oregon's urban and rural areas against the suburbs." Urban Democrats and rural Republican legislators were thus strong backers of removing exclusionary zoning, while some suburban lawmakers in both parties were opposed.

In the end, zoning reform received bipartisan support in both chambers of Oregon's legislature; it passed by a margin of 17-9 in the state Senate and 43-16 in the House, where 15 Republicans joined 28 Democrats in voting for reform. The bipartisan coalition was particularly remarkable because Oregon is, as Andersen pointed out, "one of the most polarized states in a polarized country." In fact, earlier in the 2019 session, Republican legislators had fled the state to prevent the legislature from levying tax increases on businesses and implementing a proposal to reduce carbon emissions. The zoning reform proved popular with voters: Andersen noted that 97% of the law's backers were subsequently reelected.

California's story is similar. Initially, efforts to reform zoning from 2018 to 2020 were stymied, in part because of internal divisions within the Democratic Party. In 2018, for example, a legislative proposal to spur more development in communities near transit drew opposition from some progressive social activists; they worried that new construction alongside transit stops could accelerate gentrification and displacement in poor communities. In February of that year, 37 housing and tenant advocacy groups expressed opposition to reform in part because of its focus on market-based housing rather than publicly subsidized homes.

California's zoning-reform advocates regrouped after these setbacks. They modified their proposals to address gentrification and displacement issues, and as housing prices continued to climb, philosophical opposition to "market-based" solutions yielded to the need for more housing. In September 2021, the state legislature passed a measure to legalize duplexes statewide and allow people to subdivide lots, which could mean as many as four homes on what had been a single-family lot. Even though more than 260 city leaders voiced their objections, California governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law.

Just as in Oregon, California's push for zoning reform relied on an interesting urban-rural coalition. Crucial votes of support in the state assembly came not only from urban Democrats, but also from seven Republicans — most of whom represented rural areas — who helped provide the margin of victory. Legislators representing exurban areas, where their constituents had grown tired of long commutes, were another key part of this alliance. These lawmakers were angered by wealthy, white, coast-dwelling liberals who claimed to be concerned about the environment but refused to make room in their own neighborhoods for additional housing. The California Association of Realtors, an important constituency group, also supported reform. Nationally, the California plan was endorsed by conservatives like AEI's Edward Pinto.

California's housing situation was so intolerable that reform was imperative: The median home price in the state exceeded $800,000, and some houses were selling for $1 million more than the asking price. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, homelessness had risen 20% in the previous three years. Even die-hard NIMBY constituencies were somewhat receptive to the idea that exclusionary zoning negatively affected their own families. Democratic state senator Scott Wiener, a key sponsor of reform, noted that some older, upper-middle-class white homeowners were concerned about the prospect that their children could not afford to live in the community where they grew up. Framing the stakes in those personal terms, he observed, was often "extremely powerful with people."

In 2023, Democratic legislators in Washington voted with the support of several Republicans to legalize duplexes and quadriplexes in most neighborhoods across the state. One GOP state senator, John Braun, framed his embrace of zoning reform as a means of protecting private property rights: "When the cities say you can only build one house on your half-acre lot," he asserted, "that restricts your right to use your property as you would like." Also in 2023, Vermont's Republican governor Phil Scott signed legislation to legalize duplexes statewide. Support for the bill crossed party lines and was overwhelming — it passed the state House 135-11 and the Senate 27-2.

Although zoning reform has been led by blue coastal states where the housing-affordability crisis is most intense, rising home prices have spread inland in recent years. A 2022 report found that housing production was not keeping up with population growth in 47 of 50 states (everywhere but North Dakota, Wyoming, and West Virginia). This astonishing figure has helped spur action in several red and purple states.

In 2019, Arkansas overrode local efforts to impose a minimum floor area on single-family homes. Three years later, Utah passed legislation requiring cities to zone for some moderate-income housing. And in 2023, Montana passed its own zoning reform. The state's conservative Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, called the housing crisis "the number one issue facing hardworking Montanans today." Republican state senator Daniel Zolnikov noted that residents were "living in campers in Bozeman in negative-20-degree weather." "People are trying to squeeze three kids into one bedroom to make their two-bedroom work," he added.

Gianforte created a bipartisan task force to make recommendations on how to ease price increases. Lawmakers got to work, and in May 2023, the governor signed legislation to legalize accessory dwelling units and to require all municipalities to come up with plans to streamline zoning. According to Business Insider, the bills won "huge majorities" in the legislature. Conservatives insisted that they did not want the state to become like California: "The fear" said Kendall Cotton of the right-leaning Frontier Institute, "is that in 25 years, we're going to have a California-style housing crisis."

The key driver of zoning changes in all these states has been rising home prices — a challenge that has also prompted cross-partisan reform in other countries. In New Zealand, for example, liberals and conservatives came together in 2021 to support legislation requiring that triplexes be allowed in most places in the country's major cities. The impetus was a housing-affordability crisis that was ranked the most acute among all nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

POSSIBILITIES FOR FEDERAL ACTION

Back at the national level, Congress remains deeply divided, but lawmakers have embraced some incremental zoning reforms. As mentioned above, Congress's December 2022 omnibus spending bill included $85 million in YIMBY incentive grants for localities that reduce exclusionary zoning policies. The proposal was championed by Democratic senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. Schatz has also teamed up with Republican senator Todd Young of Indiana to sponsor the YIMBY Act. The bill would require recipients of federal community-development grants to provide more transparency about their zoning laws.

Beyond these steps, how might the bipartisan momentum at the state level help influence further action at the federal level?

One possibility would be to create a bipartisan task force that includes federal and state officials and members of key stakeholder groups. Such a task force could examine the lessons from successful zoning reform efforts at the state and local levels. Task-force members might look into how states and cities in recent years formed unlikely coalitions to overcome NIMBY forces, how the pro-reform elements within each political party prevailed against their respective anti-reform factions, and which federal policies could avoid divisions and build on the common goals that surfaced in the October 2021 House hearings on zoning reform.

The zoning task force should consist of four sets of actors, all of whom should include leaders from across the political spectrum: housing experts from the egalitarian left and libertarian right; representatives of key constituency groups that have supported reform in the past, which might include advocacy organizations for civil rights, labor, senior citizens, youth, environmentalists, real-estate builders, realtors, and employers; liberal and conservative public officials in places like California, Oregon, Montana, Minneapolis, and Charlotte who have successfully enacted reforms; and prominent federal leaders who might engage in reform efforts. The group could commission research about several topics, including public opinion and messaging related to zoning reform and the best ways to mollify anti-reform factions in each political party. A final report from the task force would articulate specific goals, lay out the evidence to justify them, and provide model statutes and ordinances to help inform policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Our republic is healthier when people from across the political spectrum find issues on which they can work together. Reforming local zoning restrictions — the regulations that help dictate who gets to live where — is one of the few areas where significant, tangible, and near-term progress is a genuine possibility.

Americans of all political leanings benefit when zoning rules are crafted in ways that advance the public interest. Good-willed people of different backgrounds concerned about such issues as equal opportunity, housing affordability, the environment, racial harmony, and the survival of the American Dream can and should set aside their differences and find ways to modernize zoning policy together.

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and the author of Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don't See (PublicAffairs, 2023).


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