New Studies Shed Light on Relationship Between Zoning and Racial Integration

While zoning is just one of many factors impacting racial integration and economic mobility, it is an issue with some of the more straightforward solutions.

2 minute read

October 17, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Twin Cities

Minneapolis, Minnesota | Gian Lorenzo Ferretti / Shutterstock

In a policy brief for George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, Salim Furth describes two new studies from Greater Boston and Minnesota’s Twin Cities that quantify the relationship between zoning restrictions and racial integration in neighborhoods.

According to Furth, “They find that zoning for multifamily housing is associated with substantially larger non-White population shares than zoning for single-family housing.” While integration is impacted by a variety of complex causes, “Unlike most other barriers to full racial integration, zoning uniquely can be addressed with straightforward, low-cost policy change.”

Furth argues that the relationship is straightforward: “Zoning determines which housing types predominate in an area. Some housing types are mostly owned; others are mostly rented. And ownership rates differ sharply by race.” According to Furth, “permissive zoning allows more families to solve their own problems using their existing resources.”

The brief details the results of each study, noting that “A weakness of both papers is that they are snapshots taken at the end of a long co-evolution of zoning, structures, and race,” and that the research is limited to specific milieus. Nevertheless, “The chain of exclusion offers a clear framework for understanding the likely effects of zoning in other cities. Data on racial homeownership patterns and housing type ownership and rent splits are readily available and can guide local discussions of zoning as a barrier to integration.”

The brief goes on to offer some policy solutions, namely allowing rental-friendly housing in more areas and promoting the integration of different housing types. As Furth notes, “Allowing, or even encouraging, people to live near those who differ in race, ownership status, and income does not guarantee that they will become friends,” but it can help open up economic and social opportunities for more households.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022 in Mercatus Center

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