Thinking Citizen Blog — “If You Care About Social Justice, You Should Care About Zoning” (Richard Kahlenberg)

Thinking Citizen Blog — Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: “If you care about social justice, you should care about zoning” (Richard Kahlenberg)

Does zoning deserve more attention? Is it wrongly considered too technical or too local a topic to merit a higher place in conversations about social justice? Today a summary of the argument of an article by Richard Kahlenberg in the New York Times. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE BIGGEST SINGLE STEP TOWARD BIDEN’S THREE CAMPAIGN GOALS

1. The three goals: “racial justice, respect for working class people, and national unity.”

2. “No single step would do more to advance those goals than tearing down the government-sponsored walls that keep Americans from 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.” (Kahlenberg)

3. “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.”

NB: Did you catch that? 3/4 of residential land!!!!! “The origins of single-family zoning in America are not benign: Many housing codes used density as a proxy for separating by income and class.” (Brookings study, second link)

LOCKING BLACKS AND HISPANICS IN UNSAFE NEIGHBORHOODS

1. “Removing exclusionary barriers that keep millions of Black and Hispanic people out of safe neighborhoods with strong schools is central to the goal of advancing racial justice.”

2. “Over the past several decades, as the sociologist Orlando Patterson has noted, Black people have been integrated into the nation’s political life and the military, but the civil-rights movement failed to integrate Black Americans into the private domain of American life.”

3. “Racial discrimination has created an enormous wealth gap between white and Black people, and single-family-only zoning perpetuates that inequality.”

IT’S NOT JUST WHITES, AND NOT JUST CONSERVATIVES WHO RESIST LOW INCOME HOUSING, BUT THERE IS A SILVER LINING TO THIS STORY

1. “Middle-class Black communities have sometimes shown fierce resistance to low-income housing.”

2. “The most restrictive zoning is found in politically liberal cities, where racial views are more progressive. As Harvard’s Michael Sandel has noted, social psychologists have found that highly-educated elites ‘may denounce racism and sexism but are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.’” Class discrimination helps explain why, despite a 25% decline in Black-white residential segregation since 1970, income segregation has more than doubled.”

3. The good news: there is both a conservative, freedom-based case against restrictive zoning as well as a justice-based case. Why shouldn’t a landowner be able to do whatever they want with their land?

NB: “While democratic egalitarianism and the liberty to be free from government interference are values that are typically in tension with each other, in the case of exclusionary zoning reform, they point in the same direction.”

ADDENDUM — AND WHAT ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

1. “Laws banning the construction of multifamily housing promote damage to the planet.”

2. “Single-family-exclusive zoning pushes new development further and further out from central cities, which lengthens commutes and increases the emissions of greenhouse gases. This is an especially big problem for employees who cannot work remotely at a computer.”

3. “Families should always have the freedom to make personal choices about their living arrangements, but as the planet heats up, it is bizarre that government would explicitly prohibit construction of the most environmentally friendly options.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/opinion/biden-zoning-social-justice.html

https://www.brookings.edu/research/gentle-density-can-save-our-neighborhoods/

https://tcf.org/content/report/minneapolis-ended-single-family-zoning/?session=1

https://www.city-journal.org/html/houston-new-york-has-problem-13102.html

https://nlihc.org/resource/house-passes-yes-my-backyard-act

A LINK TO THE LAST THREE YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to justice, freedom, the law or basic values.