Zoning reform has emerged as a popular solution in the national debate surrounding affordability in housing, but a recent study's findings are complicating the matter.
MIT urban planning doctoral student Yonah Freemark's paper, “Upzoning Chicago: Impacts of a Zoning Reform on Property Values and Housing Construction,” yielded results that Freemark did not anticipate. Freemark found that in 2013 and 2015, in areas where mandatory parking was removed and added density was permitted, land prices rose fast, but new construction has not arrived. Freemark later said of the results that upzoning is "still probably good for affordability at metro scale," and the 5-year data set may not be enough time to measure upzoning's full effects, Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith writes that the study also doesn't account for rents: "It’s perfectly possible for upzoning to increase the value of land because it allows bigger buildings, with more rental units or condos, to be built on that land, while not increasing the rent that current tenants are paying. Second, it doesn’t measure the citywide effect of the reforms.
Rules that limit density — especially single-family zoning — restrict the amount of housing available near a city center, and make it difficult for people of modest means to live near transportation hubs and employers. When Minneapolis recently voted to end single-family zoning, it was hailed as a victory for racial and economic justice. Meanwhile, presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, has made zoning reform a centerpiece of her housing affordability bill. Even Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has vowed to attack restrictive zoning.