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The Great Debate - Rezoning to Allow for Denser Housing

In 1926 the Supreme Court ruled to uphold zoning in America, keeping developments such as apartments, industrial and office out of single family residential land. Speaking of apartments, the court postured that "they block the sun and air, they bring noise and traffic. They act as a parasite on single-family neighborhoods--until, finally, the residential character of the neighborhood and its desirability as a place of detached residences are utterly destroyed."

Oh, how times have changed. The New York Times reports that Officials across the country are proposing laws to end single-family zoning, which they say is necessary to keep up with crises over housing affordability, climate change and racial inequality.

It is currently illegal on 75% of the residential land in America to build anything other than a detached single-family home. The density that was originally frowned upon by the Supreme Court is now essential to make high-cost cities more affordable and to support public transit.


Single-family zoning is practically gospel in America, embraced by homeowners and local governments to protect neighborhoods of tidy houses from denser development nearby.

But a number of officials across the country are starting to make seemingly heretical moves. The Oregon legislature this month will consider a law that would end zoning exclusively for single-family homes in most of the state. California lawmakers have drafted a bill that would effectively do the same. In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted to end single-family zoning citywide. The Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Julián Castro have taken up the cause, too.

A reckoning with single-family zoning is necessary, they say, amid mounting crises over housing affordability, racial inequality and climate change. But take these laws away, many homeowners fear, and their property values and quality of life will suffer. The changes, opponents in Minneapolis have warned, amount to nothing less than an effort to “bulldoze” their neighborhoods.

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