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Exclusionary Zoning: Definitions and Implications

About this post: Exclusionary zoning refers to the practice of enacting land use regulations that effectively exclude certain groups of people, typically low-income individuals and communities of color

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Exclusionary zoning refers to the practice of enacting land use regulations that effectively exclude certain groups of people, typically low-income individuals and communities of color, from residing in affluent or predominantly white neighborhoods. These regulations often take the form of minimum lot size requirements, prohibitive zoning densities, and restrictions on affordable housing developments, effectively pricing out marginalized populations and perpetuating socio-economic segregation.

The Historical Roots of Exclusionary Zoning

Exclusionary zoning traces its origins back to the early 20th century, when urban planners and policymakers sought to maintain racial and socio-economic homogeneity in rapidly growing cities. Through the implementation of racially restrictive covenants, redlining practices, and exclusionary zoning ordinances, communities enforced racial segregation and restricted access to housing opportunities for minority groups.

This article is part of our guide: Understanding Zoning Laws

Contemporary Challenges and Critiques

Housing Affordability

Exclusionary zoning policies contribute to the exacerbation of housing affordability crises in many cities, as they artificially inflate property values and restrict the supply of affordable housing options. By imposing barriers to the development of multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and other alternative housing types, exclusionary zoning policies limit housing choices and exacerbate housing cost burdens for low and moderate-income households.

Socio-Economic Segregation

Exclusionary zoning perpetuates socio-economic segregation by concentrating affluent residents in exclusive enclaves while pushing marginalized communities to the margins of urban areas with limited access to resources, amenities, and opportunities. This spatial segregation reinforces patterns of economic inequality and social exclusion, perpetuating cycles of poverty and limiting upward mobility for disadvantaged populations.

Strategies for Addressing Exclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning policies require developers to include a percentage of affordable housing units in new residential developments or contribute to affordable housing funds. By incorporating affordable housing components into market-rate projects, inclusionary zoning promotes socio-economic diversity, expands housing opportunities for low and moderate-income households, and fosters more inclusive communities.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)

Transit-oriented development (TOD) leverages public transit infrastructure to catalyze dense, mixed-use development around transit stations, reducing dependence on automobiles and promoting equitable access to transportation and amenities. By integrating affordable housing components into TOD projects, cities can mitigate displacement pressures, enhance mobility options, and create vibrant, transit-accessible neighborhoods for all residents.

Comprehensive Land Use Reform

Comprehensive land use reform initiatives seek to dismantle exclusionary zoning practices and promote more equitable and inclusive development patterns. By revising zoning codes, relaxing restrictive land use regulations, and incentivizing affordable housing development, cities can create more flexible and responsive regulatory frameworks that prioritize equity, diversity, and community participation in the planning process.

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