Zoning and Housing Costs: The Impact of Land-Use Controls on Housing Price

By Lynne B. Sagalyn; George Sternlieb | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The conflict between the problems of growth and the capacity of the American delivery system to provide access to the good life for the majority of our citizens is daily becoming more evident. Improved zoning standards, important in themselves, are perhaps even more significant as a reflection of the pressures within American society.

A generation ago the institution of a zoning ordinance, of vigorous building standards with larger lot size, was seen essentially as an unalloyed virtue - a joy to the planner and the reformer alike. Now to some observers it is a manifestation of the exclusionary tendencies in American life.

While frequently defended from the viewpoint of the fiscal exigencies of the municipality (i.e., minimizing the cost of new development typically because of school children and the like) this defence is merely one of many which reflect a growing reaction to the problems of crowding. The urbanite, transplanted to a less densely built environment, rebels as his new locus faces many of the strains of growth of the old. And certainly the problems of traffic congestion need little amplification.

Growth and development in an earlier, less sophisticated age, were the essence of American progressivism and we have engendered a whole philosophy complementary to this belief. Now we find strenuous efforts being made at state and at certain local levels toward a zero household growth policy. And these occur in communities which historically have been known for their boosterism.

Certainly lurking in the background are all of the problems of race and economic class which afflict our society. While great strides have been made in recent years to make every man's housing dollar as good as every other man's; it takes an increasing number of those dollars to buy or rent suburban housing. Many blue collar workers and an increasing number of white collar workers simply cannot afford homes in the suburbs. Currently, there is little in the way of new housing, close to the major job focii, available to families with incomes of less than $16,000 a year and this is for rental. If we turn to house purchase the threshhold is even higher.

Given the skewed distribution of income levels by race, these current housing costs mean that the vast majority of minority groups simply have no access to the new growth areas, strictly as a function of basic economics. But their dilemma is far from unique; the same is true for the majority of white households as well.

-i-

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