Single-family zoning laws, or city ordinances preventing non-single-family homes from being built, created the image of the quintessential residential area we know today. But as these exclusive hubs of wealth stockpile land and resources, it further perpetuates the housing segregation already built into our suburbs. Here in Metro Detroit, this story is all too familiar.
“When you create a barrier to mobility… you end up having a lot of adverse consequences that fall disproportionately on low-income people and disproportionately on people of color.” – Michael Manville, UCLA
Listen: UCLA professor on housing inequality driven by single-family zoning
Michael Manville is a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. He says in most cities and towns in America, “Most residential areas are zoned single-family… it ensures that the entire neighborhood is composed of single-family homes.” Manville says zoning exclusively for single-family homes then exacerbates wealth disparities in the surrounding areas. “In many parts of the country, this does impose a giant problem,” he says. “If you’re in certain metropolitan areas… where a lot of people would like to live… it really dries up the minimum purchase price needed to purchase a piece of the community.”
Manville says single-family zoning reflects a long history of racist housing discrimination practices. “The intention behind them doesn’t matter anymore. The whole point of institutional racism is that you perpetuate unequal outcomes regardless of whether or not anyone who is involved in that has that intention.”
Today’s conversations about race actually happen as conversations about zoning, Manville says. “When you create a barrier to mobility… you end up having a lot of adverse consequences that fall disproportionately on low-income people and disproportionately on people of color.”