Why Zoning Regulations Matter

Academics and researchers agree - America has zoning problem.

A book published in 2022, America’s Frozen Neighborhoods, The Abuse of Zoning by Robert Ellickson*, reported that virtually all studies by economists find that local zoning practices significantly harm the national economy.  Ellickson writes in the preface of his book: 

"Local zoning measures, to the surprise of many, may be the most consequential regulatory program in the United States. Numerous social scientists have found that barriers to housing production elevate housing costs and distort household migration decisions."   

Bloomberg Research reported that resistance to building affordable housing generally increases the rate of inflation of all housing – both rental and owned. This is a principal reason why many states like New York and California struggle with high housing costs for everyone and higher inflation rates. 

However,  a recent Bloomberg report concluded that in the spring of 2023, the Twin Cities metropolitan area was the  first to achieve a 2% decline in its inflation rate. The reason? More housing had been created in the region in recent years compared to other metropolitan areas.  

Residential zoning codes usually contain the following factors that influence the type and cost of housing development:

Once zoning regulations are in place, it is challenging to change then.  Ellickson cites two factors that inhibit changes to existing residential zoning: NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) and the environmental movement.  

NIMBYism is the most influential factor.  Current residents are often wary of change. Their political resistance occurs at every income level. Ellickson studied zoning practices in Silicon Valley, CA, Greater New Haven, CT and Greater Austin, TX. He found no differences in the degree of resistance to change whether the neighborhoods were working class or affluent.  

Environmental activism caused the city of Minneapolis to abandon its bold 2040 Plan. The housing portion of the plan had this goal: "In 2040, all Minneapolis residents will be able to afford and access quality housing throughout the city." The plan eliminated single family zoning entirely in order to increase housing density and affordability. Ultimately the plan was defeated in court, alleging it would do irreparable harm to the environment.  Ellickson predicts that environmental challenges will continue to doom proposed zoning changes.

One and All Arden Hills supports the zoning changes requested by Rice Creek Commons developer Alatus.  Given the current economic climate, we agree that more housing development is both feasible and desirable on this large tract of land. We particularly support more opportunities to create housing for individuals and families who earn less than $125,000 annually.   The proposed plan projects 20% of rental housing for residents making less than $75,000 and 10% of for-sale housing for residents making less than $100,000.


*Robert Ellickson is Professor Emeritus of Property and Urban Law at Yale School.