Video: Invisible Walls Shutting You Out?


If it feels like your city is shutting you out, that’s probably because it is! Upzoning is a housing affordability tool to take down our cities’ invisible walls.

Cities and towns make choices about what types of homes can be built, and where. These choices can push prices up and limit rental options. In fact, outdated zoning laws have put up invisible walls around our cities. We call it exclusionary zoning; laws that reserve half or even three-quarters of the residential land in most cities for only the most expensive kind of homes.

Zoning isn’t all bad; it keeps industrial areas away from where people live and can support thriving business centers. But zoning choices can do harm, too. We have a long, ugly history of zoning laws that segregated neighborhoods by race and class. Guess what? Today’s exclusive zoning laws are segregating our cities, too, walling off neighborhoods for only the biggest houses on big lots.

We can take down the invisible walls that shut away the promise and opportunity of our cities. We have a key to unlock access to our centrally-located, convenient neighborhoods. The solution: upzoning. It means revamping our zoning laws so that more neighborhoods allow a healthy mix of homes of all shapes and sizes.

How does upzoning take down the invisible walls and make our cities more affordable?

Here’s our 90-second video explainer.

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What is exclusionary zoning?

Exclusionary zoning, in its most common form, allows only one detached home per lot, limiting the number of homes and restricting all but the biggest, most expensive kind.

More modest options like duplexes and apartments are illegal. These zoning choices segregate cities today by pushing prices up and pushing affordable options to the margins. Detached house zoning has roots in a long history of racial and class exclusions and remains among the largest obstacles in cities for allowing more equity and social justice.

What is upzoning?

Cities can unlock opportunity and affordability by changing zoning laws to allow more homes of all shapes and sizes.

Upzoning lifts common restrictions that reserve too much of our cities’ land exclusively for only one house per one large lot. Upzoning protects mixed-income neighborhoods from becoming exclusive enclaves of big, expensive, stand-alone houses and even more McMansions. And upzoning helps slow displacement in the long term by keeping prices down and ensuring more modest, affordable choices are available in more neighborhoods, including rental choices. Upzoning our cities is not the whole solution, but it’s a big part of it.

What about displacement?

Simply upzoning to stabilize prices across a city or region is not enough.

The lived experience of low-income people, particularly in communities of color, tells us that policies intended to promote homebuilding must be coupled with community stabilization policies to help ensure that vulnerable residents and business owners are not pushed out of their neighborhoods. An important part of the vision of an affordable, compact, and equitable city is that historically marginalized people such as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, LGBTQIA+, poor, and working-class communities can live where they choose and have access to jobs, transit, schools, and cultural centers. Anti-displacement advocates often call for cities to pursue strategies including community owned housingright of first refusalpreservation of existing affordable housing, and support for cultural anchors.

What you can do

Share this video with your neighbors and city and state leaders.

Talk to people in your communities about tearing down the invisible walls caused by exclusive zoning. Tell your leaders you want upzoning solutions to protect communities, preserve mixed-income neighborhoods, and keep your city affordable and sustainable.

Get the word out!
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