Single-family zoning policies have always had a troubling origin. In 1917, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate policies that explicitly segregated residential areas for black and white individuals, many local governments adopted a new form of exclusionary zoning: regulations that prohibited the construction of anything other than single-family homes. Although these policies achieved similar outcomes by excluding most black and low-income individuals, the Supreme Court deemed this practice legal.
A hundred years later, single-family zoning is widely recognized as both flawed policy and extremely resistant to change. On one hand, researchers from various political backgrounds have found that exclusionary zoning laws create lasting barriers between racial and socioeconomic groups and contribute to the nation’s housing affordability crisis by artificially inflating housing prices. However, on the other hand, these policies are pervasive and have long been considered untouchable, often regarded as an unalterable aspect of American society.
Suddenly, however, the seemingly impenetrable barriers created by zoning policies are starting to crumble. Various jurisdictions, ranging from Massachusetts and Maryland to Oregon and California, as well as the State of Washington, are taking steps to relax these restrictions. Notably, presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have put forth federal legislation to diminish exclusionary zoning, while Ben Carson, President Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development, leads a White House task force dedicated to addressing this issue. Perhaps most astonishingly, the city of Minneapolis achieved what was once deemed impossible: the complete elimination of single-family zoning policies throughout the entire city with its Minneapolis 2040 policy. Final approval for this groundbreaking decision is anticipated this month.
This analysis delves into Minneapolis’s courageous choice to abolish exclusionary zoning and is divided into three sections. The first section outlines the achievements of the Minneapolis policy. The second section explores how it managed to overcome significant obstacles. Lastly, the third section examines the prospects of replicating this policy elsewhere.
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