Study: Renters, Women, Minorities Underrepresented in Land Use Decisions

The membership of decisionmaking bodies such as planning commissions rarely reflects the socioeconomic, gender, and racial characteristics of the local community.

2 minute read

April 13, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


View from back of three men in suits sitting in a large room with leather chairs facing dais

Salivanchuk Semen / Government meeting

Who is represented in planning decisions? “Land-use laws influence home prices, class and racial segregation, carbon emissions levels, and labor market efficiency,” making this a key question, write Lydia Lo, Eleanor Noble, Yonah Freemark in a new study for the Urban Institute.

The study analyzed “the racial and gender characteristics, housing tenures, and occupations of land-use decisionmaking board members across 482 jurisdictions and 601 land-use decisionmaking bodies within the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.”

The study found that, by and large, “the people who draft, adjudicate, and implement land-use laws rarely share similar demographics, occupations, or housing tenures as their jurisdiction’s residents.”

The article details the data on representation, noting that “Forty-five percent of land-use boards have a membership that is at least 95 percent white, even though only 5 percent of jurisdictions have such high white population shares.” Additionally, men are overrepresented by more than 20 percentage points, while renters are underrepresented in 99 percent of jurisdictions. Planning and zoning board members also tend to come from planning- or real estate-related professions. “Meanwhile, there are few board members hailing from the food, health care, and retail sectors, and retirees, homemakers, and unemployed people are similarly underrepresented.”

According to the authors, these differences matter because “These results may offer one explanation for why US cities have suffered from decades of inadequate housing construction, low levels of housing affordability, and high levels of segregation.” The authors note that boards that offer supports like child care, compensation, or flexible meeting times are more likely to more accurately represent the local community, and recommend state-level requirements for such accommodations to encourage more representative membership in land use decisionmaking bodies.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023 in Urban Institute

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