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Land Use & Inequality

Patterns of land use have historically had a large impact on the economic opportunity available to families, and on the ability of families to build wealth. Notoriously, redlining in cities severely limited the ability of African American families to own homes and thus build wealth. As we know, the proximity of affordable housing to jobs, and the availability of affordable transportation are both critical for economic success and are controlled in large part by local policy. In many cities, land use policy has acted to limit both density and affordability, and to reinforce de facto racial and economic segregation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Local zoning and development regulations can and should be updated to make it easier to build affordable, context-sensitive housing and healthy, vibrant neighborhoods. 

6 Ways Affordable Housing Developers Are Fighting NIMBYism, Amanda Abrams, Next City, July 17th, 2017. Read more.

Density Without Demolition, Stephanie Meeks, Citylab, June 11th, 2017. Read more.

Less segregated communities aren’t only more inclusive.  They’re more prosperous, Mark Treskon, Urban Institute, March 28th, 2017. Read more.

Planning for Social Equity, Kathleen McCormick, Land Lines, The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, February 1st, 2017. Read more.

Housing Development Toolkit, The White Hosue, September 1st, 2016. Read more.

Understanding Exclusionary Zoning and Its Impact on Concentrated Poverty, Elliott Anne Rigsby, The Century Foundation, June 23rd, 2016. Read more.

Equitable Development as a Tool to Advance Racial Equity, Government Alliance on Racial Equity, September 1st, 2015. Read more.

One of the best ways to fight inequality in cities: zoning, Daniel Hertz, The Washington Post, August 13th, 2014. Read more.

Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class, Create Affordable Housing, Joel Rogers and Satya Rhodes-Conway, COWS, February 1st, 2014. Read more.

Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class, Fair Housing, Joel Rogers and Satya Rhodes-Conway, COWS, February 1st, 2014. Read more.

Burlington, VT passed several ballot initiatives that will make it possible to break up a “super block” downtown, restore street connectivity, and allow the development of taller buildings. Facing opposition in advance of the vote, Mayor Miro Weinberger built a coalition of affordable housing advocates, environmentalists, labor, and business groups to help communicate the value of the changes proposed to the development process.


Los Angeles, CA, remains one of the least affordable housing markets in the US, in part because of restrictive land use practices. Under Mayor Eric Garcetti, the city is focusing on getting housing built near transit and preserving and producing affordable housing. They have streamlined their permit process and updated community plans, many of which were 30 years old. They are also setting policy city wide to promote transit oriented development and the creation of accessory dwelling units.


Seattle, WA used a comprehensive equity analysis in the update of their comprehensive land use plan, which mapped both access to opportunity and the risk of displacement for the whole city. They also developed an equitable development framework and implementation plan, focused on building resilient communities and “great places with equitable access.” The plan includes a targeted city-wide zoning strategy to increase housing affordability, reduce displacement, and increase housing choices. View resolutions here and here.


Flagstaff, AZ developed a set of incentives for affordable housing development, which include fee waivers, deferral of impact fees, expedited review, density bonuses, flexible design standards, and parking requirement reductions.


Mariah Young-Jones

Learn more about the connection between land use and inequality by checking out presentations and materials from the Summer 2017 Annual Meeting here.