Land Use Regulations and Income Segregation

Alyson Marchi-Young
Wed, 03/30/2016 - 4:40pm

A new study has come out looking at land use and its relationship with income segregation. There have been previous studies that link zoning and land use laws to racial segregation, and it turns out that these laws can have a similar, stratifying effect on wealth. This study finds that laws that favor exclusionary zoning and density restrictions in cities (often at the behest of homeowners of single-family detached residences) create income segregation and challenge housing affordability throughout a metropolitan area. These policies concentrate the most affluent members of a community, often in the most desirable locations that are central to economic and social activity. This process excludes lower income members of the community; keeping them at arm’s length from those desirable attributes. We can see this issue playing out in Portland right now, with the current mayor carving out a special exemption from density for his wealthy neighborhood.  

The study also finds that not all land use laws are equal in creating this segregation. Segregation is associated with local project approvals processes that hinder new housing development, and in metro areas that feel pressure to restrict population growth. However, open space requirements and supply restrictions are not associated with economic segregation.  Finally, a key to breaking this cycle can be found on a statewide level. “Segregation is lower in cities and metros where state governments are more involved in land use regulation, residential development, and growth management.” Good thing Oregon has a strong statewide model!  

The Eastmoreland Golf Course Clubhouse is in Mayor Charlie Hales Neighborhood. He has recommended that this neighborhood be down-zoned in the Portland Comprehensive Plan. This will further restrict Portland's ability to house our growing population, and clearly isolates this wealthy enclave.