The city of Minneapolis just launched a quiet revolution when the city council voted to abolish single-family zoning. This is an excellent move. Cities around the country should follow suit.
Single-family zoning is also bad for economic equality. It makes it a lot harder for people of modest means to live in a thriving area, since these people tend only be able to afford apartments, townhouses or other smaller or multifamily dwellings. Blue-collar workers aren’t just being priced out of the country’s increasingly productive cities — they’re being prevented from moving there in search of better opportunities. Urbanist Richard Florida refers to this in his book “The New Urban Crisis.”
There’s also a racial dimension to the inequality that exclusionary zoning creates. Black families, which tend to earn less money, are kept out of white neighborhoods by their inability to afford the sprawling homes that cities mandate be built there. In fact, single-family zoning might have even been invented for just this purpose, as part of a large raft of approaches that cities used to keep higher-earning whites segregated from generally lower-earning black residents after race-based zoning was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1917. Eliminating this zoning is thus one important step on the road to integration.
The Oregon Legislature has passed a bill that largely bans single-family zoning statewide. It’s a notable win for zoning reform advocates.
On Sunday, the Oregon Senate passed HB 2001 by a 17-9 vote, with Republicans and Democrats lining up on both sides of the bill. The Oregon House approved its version of the bill two weeks ago in a similarly bipartisan 43-16 vote.