Zoning Reforms Slow to Benefit Renters

Households seeking lower-cost rental housing units are not seeing housing supply go up as quickly as higher-income families after upzoning.

1 minute read

April 20, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Row of white two-story townhomes with black trim

1Roman Makedonsky / Townhomes

An Urban Institute study of zoning reforms in more than 1,000 cities found that low-income renters are the slowest to experience the benefits of zoning changes and an increased housing supply, whose units are concentrated at the higher end of the spectrum, reports Molly Bolan in Route Fifty.

“That’s not to say updating land-use regulations aren’t beneficial to households across the income spectrum, the report notes. The supply change for less expensive units is positive but isn’t significant enough to be definitively a direct result of zoning reforms.” But “By building higher-cost units, higher-income households can leave older buildings which are then available to lower-income families in a process known as ‘filtering.’”

Meanwhile, “The study also found that cities that tightened restrictions saw median rents go up in the years following implementation.”

But the impact of zoning reforms that boost construction is complex, with new developments and amenities leading to gentrification and displacement. “In these cases, more immediate initiatives, like rental assistance programs, are all the more important.” Ultimately, the researchers conclude that “there really is no silver bullet, and we have to do everything—we have to attack this problem from every angle.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 in Route Fifty

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