Zoning rules are how cities and towns dictate what types of homes can be built, and where. But zoning rules also determine who can live where—or, more precisely, who can afford to live close to work, school, friends, parks, and transit.
In most cities, zoning rules need an upgrade. Cities often reserve half or even three-quarters of residential land only for single-detached houses—the biggest, most expensive kind of housing. Limiting available housing and banning most kinds of modest-sized, affordable home options and rentals, pushes prices up and pushes people out.
Indeed, exclusionary zoning laws uphold a long, ugly history of practices that segregated neighborhoods by race and class. And when people who work in the city are pushed to take on longer, costlier commutes from adjacent towns or suburbs, it drives up regional traffic and pollution too.
One important part of the solution is upzoning. It simply means revamping our zoning laws so that more neighborhoods allow a healthy mix of homes of all shapes and sizes, including modest-sized homes like duplexes and mother-in-law apartments. When we add housing where people need it, including rental options, we protect mixed-income communities and encourage compact, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods.
Most people probably don’t think—or talk—about zoning too much. But if you care deeply about racial and social equity in your city, rising prices and affordability, and solutions to combat the climate emergency, it’s time to start!
- Zoning that prohibits all but the biggest, most expensive housing, drives prices up and builds invisible walls around neighborhoods, pushing people out, and creating economically segregated communities which exclude all but the most affluent from the promise and opportunity of our cities.
- Exclusionary zoning limits affordable home choices close to work, school, friends, parks, and transit. Commutes get longer and we get more traffic and pollution. Upzoning to allow more modest-sized homes in existing, close-in neighborhoods helps cities stabilize the costs of housing and commutes, protect open space and farmland from sprawl, and curb pollution.
- What’s upzoning? It means protecting a healthy mix of homes of all shapes and sizes—and for all incomes—throughout our neighborhoods, including lifting bans on rental options and more affordable homes like duplexes, backyard cottages, and apartments.
- Exclusionary zoning puts up invisible walls and locks people out. Upzoning to allow more home choices opens the gates to affordability and opportunity.
For more talking points, see our 90-second video explainer on exclusionary zoning’s invisible walls and the upzoning solution to tear them down, allowing affordable home options, close-in!
Re “revamping our zoning laws so that more neighborhoods allow a healthy mix of homes of all shapes and sizes”. Sounds great, but how can we assure that what zoning “allows” will actually occur? Most cases after upzoning, the new development is all at the new higher density — not a “healthy mix”. And the housing that gets torn down to make room for the new highest density development, that’s the (relatively) affordable housing that’s already there.
Maybe it’s time to stop worshipping at the alter of Upzoning. It’s not the magic pill to solve housing supply and affordability.
If that housing is SFR, then not typically very affordable. If multi-family, then the zoning(or land use)is already appropriate, although hopefully there are some incentives to rehab. Please explain.
MarkAB, Sightline has a fixation on abolishing SF zoning in Seattle, probably everywhere, and allowing MF development everywhere. If I’m following your point, yes current SF houses in SF zones are expensive, but the fixer-uppers are the least expensive in those zones. Upzone the neighborhood and those fixers get demolished and replaced by MF. Some ambitious families still seek out those fixers to improve and live in as family homes.
I recall a lot in central Seattle, near Yesler and 20th, where an old SF house was demolished and replaced by a six-pack of town homes at $670K or more each ~ and that was several years ago; no telling what they’d cost today.
My point is still that widespread upzones are no silver bullet, no magic pill to produce any abundance of affordable housing. I’m getting a little tired of all the magical thinking going on in the “affordable” housing world.
That is exactly what keeps occurring in Dallas, Texas.
Time and time again, developers purchase low-income housing complexes with a commitment to the city and the residents to build affordable housing options for displaced residents and then they resell the bulldozed and leveled land to luxury and high-end developers leaving the previous residents competing for a severely insufficient quantity of affordable housing options.
It is very frustrating.