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Op-Ed: Zoning Shouldn't Discriminate Based on the Definition of 'Family'

By designating that "family" refer to a specific set of ties, many zoning codes make it difficult for "functional" families without those ties to find a place to live.
July 10, 2019, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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"Today, when courts ask 'what makes a family?' they often look beyond blood, marriage, and adoption to see if people have made other meaningful, familial commitments that qualify for the obligations and benefits that family law provides," writes Kate Redburn. In many cases of family law, cohabitation can be an important part, "if not the determining factor," in deciding whether a given group of people constitutes a family. 

Redburn argues that many local zoning provisions discriminate against "functional" families in favor of "formal" ones by setting strict limits on the number of "unrelated" people who can co-habitate in certain kinds of housing. 

The 1974 Supreme Court case Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas gave the nod to that practice by ruling that municipalities can differentiate between related and unrelated families. But Redburn traces the origins of the problem to the mid-1960s, when "fears of the family in crisis" led more localities to zone in favor of formal nuclear families. That practice coincided in many cases with formalized neighborhood segregation and the growing preponderance of single-family zoning.

"By uncoupling the definition of family from residential limits, all kinds of chosen families—foster families, communes, students, seniors, and group homes—would be able to live together legally," Redburn writes. 

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Published on Monday, June 17, 2019 in CityLab
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