Opinion: It’s Time Zoning Laws Reflected the Real World

Current zoning restrictions hearken back to an America that long longer exists. It’s time to update codes and stop perpetuating housing segregation and inequality.

2 minute read

August 9, 2019, 8:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Lawns and Suburban Homes

Johnny Habell / Shutterstock

Sara C. Bronin argues that outdated elements of zoning codes limit the kind of housing that communities across the country truly need. She points out that the way zoning laws define family—as people related through blood, marriage, or adoption ties—is one of the biggest problems:

The definition of family matters because zoning codes typically have a "one family per housing unit" policy. These policies are most strictly enforced in the neighborhoods with single-unit detached homes — 64 percent of neighborhoods, according to the 2013 American Housing Survey. It’s in these communities where housing affordability tends to be low, and racial segregation high.

As a result, zoning codes prohibit groups of people who want to cohabitate for any of a multitude of social or financial reasons, says Bronin. "In other words, the communal living arrangement in 'The Golden Girls' would be a zoning violation. (Dorothy and Sophia were related, but Blanche and Rose were not.)"

While progress has been made in some cities and states to recognize "functional families," much more change needs to happen, says Bronin. She urges presidential candidates to more directly address the issue and propose solutions in their housing plans.

"Championing this issue would promote progressive ideals. And it could unite both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives may come to realize that limited definitions of family erode property rights and freedom of association in the home," adds Bronin.

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