Friday, May 15, 2020
Despite an academic consensus that easing land use regulations to increase the supply of housing can help lower housing prices, local opposition to new development remains prevalent. Onerous zoning regulations and resistance to new housing persist not only in wealthy suburbs, but also in lower-income urban neighborhoods. In addition to making housing more expensive, such policies increase residential segregation, exacerbate urban sprawl, and have detrimental environmental effects. If increasing supply tends to reduce costs, what explains this opposition, particularly during a period of rising housing costs?
One factor is concern about the localized costs of greater density and its effect on neighborhood character and livability. There is a perception that new development may, by changing the character and desirability of its immediate neighborhood, play some role in increasing housing prices and exacerbating gentrification and displacement in lower-income communities. Empirical evidence suggests this is not the case, but efforts to exclude new development and demands for greater local control over land use persist in lower-income urban neighborhoods. These tendencies mirror responses in wealthier communities.
This Article compares these exclusionary tendencies and asks whether there is a normative basis for differentiating them. It concludes that there is a modest case for distinct treatment, based on a combination of factors including the historical treatment of lower-income urban communities, the more fragile relationship between property and personhood in such neighborhoods, the structure of local government law, and the principle of subsidiarity. However, any preferential treatment must avoid undermining broader efforts towards reducing regulatory and procedural obstacles to denser development and increased housing supply. It should primarily address concerns about neighborhood character and the claims of long-term residents to a distinct stake in the neighborhood that entitles them to some degree of deference and perhaps some share of the increased property values generated by a zoning change. Rather than provide additional process or opportunities for public participation, legal responses should carefully circumscribe local authority in the realm of planning and grant individual residents a property entitlement they can freely transfer. This entitlement, granted to both owners and tenants, would allow residents to derive some benefit from new development while strengthening the voice of a more representative share of the local population.