Restrictive Zoning and Political Opposition to Development Linked to High Housing Costs and Segregation in California

A study published by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, “Land Use Politics, Housing Costs, and Segregation in California Cities,” found that restrictive, anti-density land-use regulations predict higher housing prices in California’s metropolitan jurisdictions. Political opposition to housing development, as reported by planners, was found to predict higher housing prices, longer project delays, and a lower likelihood of zoning reform. Finally, the author found that both restrictive zoning and political opposition to development predict lower shares of black, Hispanic, and blue-collar residents.

The author used data from the 2018 Terner California Residential Land Use Survey (TCRLUS) to construct measures of anti-density zoning regulations and political opposition to development. These measures were then merged with data on housing costs, racial segregation, and occupational segregation from the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The author found that land-use regulation data explain some of housing cost patterns in California. Larger minimum lot-size requirements, which restrict the intensity of land use, consistently predict higher housing costs. Political support for or opposition to housing development was measured on a six-point intensity scale, which the author calculated using TCRLUS questions that gauged opposition from citizens and officials. Net political support for development was found to be a robust predictor of lower rents, lower housing values, and smaller units. Citizen opposition predicted significantly more delays for both single- and multi-family projects and a lower likelihood of zoning reform within the last five years, even though the proportion of land zoned for single-family housing was relatively constant across areas of varying citizen opposition. High citizen opposition was likely to be found in areas with more highly educated and non-Hispanic white residents.

Additionally, the author found significant relationships between restrictive zoning and segregation based on race and class. A larger share of land zoned for single-family detached housing predicted a lower share of black and Hispanic residents and a higher share of white residents. Both a larger share of land zoned for single-family detached housing and higher minimum lot-size restrictions predicted lower shares of blue-collar workers. Further analysis suggested that the link between zoning and racial exclusion runs through home prices. Political support for housing was also strongly correlated with the shares of black, Hispanic, and blue-collar populations, suggesting a high demand and acceptance of multi-family housing development in more minority and working-class communities.

The author notes that these findings do not definitively identify causal relationships and instead may highlight the ways prosperous, high-opportunity areas seek to preserve their elite status. Nonetheless, the study identifies restrictive zoning and local political opposition as durable barriers to increasing the supply of affordable housing and promoting racial inclusion.

The full report can be read at: