Single-Family Zoning Reform Only a Start

Opinion: To undo the consequences (intended or not) of a built environment dominated by single-family zoning, more than just a few three-plexes and accessory dwelling units will be required.

October 17, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Single-Family Housing Development

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"Long condemned for creating suburban sprawl and excluding Black Americans, immigrants, and low-income people from residential districts, [single-family zoning] has now come under attack for limiting the supply of affordable housing," according to an article by Alexander von Hoffman, senior research fellow in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

The article provides a details history of the creation of single-family zoning and the current zoning and planning reform movements dismantling the status quo in cities like Minneapolis and states like Oregon.

The article concludes with a powerful statement on the limits of single-family zoning reform, adding a list of additional reforms Hoffman argues will be necessary to make progress against the challenges of the housing market and reversing the historic role of planning role in creating those challenges:

Merely eliminating single-family zoning, history suggests, is unlikely to increase housing stock significantly. To unleash residential development will require peeling back layers of regulations that have accrued over the decades. That could mean reducing minimum lot sizes, relaxing overly stringent construction and site requirements, easing design reviews, and rolling back some environmental controls, including certain provisions for wetlands and open space.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

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