Housing segregation by race and class is a fountainhead of inequality in America, yet for generations, politicians have been terrified to address the issue. That is why it is so significant that President Biden has proposed, as part of his American Jobs Act, a $5 billion race-to-the-top competitive grants program to spur jurisdictions to “eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies.” Mr. Biden would reward localities that voluntarily agree to jettison “minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing.” The Biden administration is off to an important start, but over the course of his term, Mr. Biden should add sticks to the carrots he has already proposed.
Although zoning may seem like a technical, bureaucratic and decidedly local question, in reality the issue relates directly to three grand themes that Joe Biden ran on in the 2020 campaign: racial justice, respect for working-class people and national unity. Perhaps no single step would do more to advance those goals than tearing down the government-sponsored walls that keep Americans of different races and classes from living in the same communities, sharing the same public schools and getting a chance to know one another across racial, economic and political lines.
Economically discriminatory zoning policies — which say that you are not welcome in a community unless you can afford a single-family home, sometimes on a large plot of land — are not part of a distant, disgraceful past. In most American cities, zoning laws prohibit the construction of relatively affordable homes — duplexes, triplexes, quads and larger multifamily units — on three-quarters of residential land.
If You Care About Social Justice, You Have to Care About Zoning, Richard D. Kahlenberg, New York Times, April 19, 2021, available here