Ranking Exclusionary Zoning: D.C., New York Metro Areas Top the List

A new database measures the restrictiveness of exclusionary zoning practices around the country. Exclusionary zoning, it turns out, is much more prevalent than commonly acknowledged.

2 minute read

March 22, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


New York City Zoning Map

New York City Planning Commission / New York City Zoning Map

The Eviction Lab has created a new tool to document exclusionary zoning practices around the United States as a first step creating the new housing necessary to ease rising housing costs in communities.

Writing for the Eviction Lab, Matt Mleczko and Matthew Desmond introduce the challenge of reforming zoning when so little is known about zoning in the aggregate.

“Zoning is fundamental to the make-up of our communities and our neighborhoods, but understanding these regulations and how they vary within and between places is enormously challenging. In large part, that’s because we lack straightforward, nationwide data,” according to the article.

Mleczko, Desmond, and the team at the Eviction Lab are attempting to fill that void with the launch of the National Zoning and Land Use Database (NZLUD). The duo have also authored an article for the Urban Studies journal to describe the process of creating the NZLUD, and have shared their data and code on GitHub.

The process created a metric the team dubbed the Zoning Restrictiveness Index (ZRI) to compare the restrictiveness of development regulations across jurisdictions. “We find highly-restrictive zoning policies in some of the coastal metro areas you might expect—Washington DC, New York, Seattle—but also in rustbelt metro areas like Milwaukee and Detroit,” write Mleczko and Desmond. “This underscores that exclusionary zoning is more common than many have acknowledged, both across and within metro areas.”

As measured by the ZRI, the most restrictive metropolitan areas are 1) Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV; 2) New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA; 3) Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA; 4) Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; and 5) Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL.

The remainder of the top ten, which, perhaps shockingly, does not include any Californian metropolitan areas, can be found at the link below. Example maps of depicting ZRI quintiles for the San-Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA are also included.

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