Tearing Down Invisible Walls

Ending Economic Housing Discrimination

Janet Williams, a Black single mother of two, works at a community health center and frequently faces a tough dilemma when her meager paycheck arrives. On several occasions, it’s gotten “to the point,” she says, “where I had to choose to pay for groceries, pay rent, pay gas and electric or ... pay childcare.”1 Sometimes her hand is forced. “I’ve had times where, if I didn’t pay my rent, the next day I was going to have eviction filed.” On those occasions, “the whole check goes to my rent,” and while she waits for the next paycheck to arrive, she may have to tell her kids, we will “not have hot water and not have the electric working.”2

With a college education, Williams didn’t expect to be in this position. She grew up on the north and west sides of Columbus, Ohio, as the youngest, and the only girl, in a large family. After graduating from Groveport Madison Public Schools, she attended community college and then earned a bachelor’s degree in human services from Ohio Christian University in 2019.3

With two kids and loans from college, Williams says her job as a community mental health worker and substance abuse case manager for a nonprofit doesn’t provide enough. She lives on the east side of Columbus in a neighborhood with a fair amount of police activity, and she often has trouble making ends meet. “I’ve never been homeless,” she says, but she is often “behind on my rent.”4

Williams did what society asked her to do by working hard and getting a college degree. But she took on $70,000 of debt in the process. Her income is just above what would qualify for food stamps, she says, so “it’s on me to put groceries in the house.” She hates owing money, so when she gets a windfall, like a COVID-19 stimulus check, she uses it to pay down her credit card debt. But she’s frustrated that high housing costs mean she is constrained to a neighborhood where her kids don’t feel safe. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen the police outside of our window,” she says. To avoid dangers in the neighborhood, she says, “we pretty much keep to ourselves.”5

Why Is Housing So Expensive?

The solution, when many people think about Williams’s dilemma, involves finding ways to raise wages or increase government housing subsidies. Both approaches make good sense and are necessary.6 But equally, perhaps more, important is doing something about the “supply side” and addressing the question: What is driving housing prices so high? To what degree do hidden government policies, such as exclusionary zoning, help create the housing affordability crisis in the first place?

There is near-universal agreement among economists that since the 1970s, the rise of zoning laws that forbid the construction of multifamily housing has prevented housing supply from keeping up with demand. The 1970s were a turning point, in part because they were an era of growing inflation, and home equity became an increasing proportion of the financial portfolio of most families.7 The share of owner-occupied housing as a proportion of net worth rose from an average of 21 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 1979.8 Capital income from housing sales tripled as a share of total capital income between 1950 and 2010.9 As homeownership was transformed from a consumer commodity to an investment, homeowners became increasingly anxious about how new development might affect their property values—and demanded new zoning constraints.10

Government policies that forbade multifamily housing generated and continue to perpetuate a housing shortage. If homeowners were allowed to subdivide their houses into duplexes or triplexes, or if more multifamily housing could be built near transit, for example, a community would be able to increase the supply of housing available. But single-family exclusive zoning prohibits that possibility. The fundamental problem is that local government policies are preventing builders from creating the housing people need where they need it.11 One recent study found that between 2012 and 2019, the shortfall in housing nationally doubled in size.12 In 2021, economists estimated that we need to build another 3.8 million homes to satisfy demand.13

Economists point out that zoning laws that limit development artificially drive up prices.14 “Imagine,” one writer says, “if there were a law that only 1,000 cars could be sold per year in all of New York. Those 1,000 cars would go to whoever could pay the most money for them, and chances are you and everyone you know would be out of luck.”15 This doesn’t happen, as one expert observes, because “Ford and General Motors don’t have to ask government permission to increase the number of cars or SUVs that their factories produce.” By contrast, “all changes to housing supply require explicit approval from local governments.”16

Not surprisingly, purchasing a home has become more difficult. US homeownership in late 2017 was near a 50-year low.17 Whereas in 1970, the typical American home cost 1.7 times the median household income, by 2020, that typical American home cost 4.4 times the median income.18 Taking homeowners and renters together, nearly 38 million Americans are “cost burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income for mortgages or rent.19 Vulnerable people, like Janet Williams, are hit particularly hard and endure tremendous stress in deciding which expenses to prioritize and in facing the possibility of eviction and homelessness.

When government zoning policies curtail housing supply in a metropolitan area and increase competition for housing, including in trailer parks, rents rise and millions of Americans suffer. Researchers found that, “Nearly 4 in 10 nonelderly adults reported that in 2018, their families had trouble paying or were unable to pay for housing, utilities, food, or medical care at some point during the year.”20 And in 2017, a year of relatively low unemployment, “one in eight” Americans said “they must turn to high interest rate payday loans, auto title loans, or pawn shops to tide them over.”21 In 2020, one survey found that 17 percent of Americans missed or delayed paying major bills to ensure a household member had enough to eat, and 16 percent reported having serious problems affording food. Some 19 percent reported serious problems paying the mortgage or rent, and 18 percent reported serious problems paying utilities.22 A 2021 report, vividly titled The Rent Eats First, found that “nearly a quarter of renter households were spending more than half of their incomes on rent each month, leaving little income to cover other expenses.”23 A September 2020 study found that 23 million Americans (about 10 percent of all adults) “reported that their household sometimes or often had ‘not enough to eat’ in the last seven days.”24 Making housing more affordable, one author writes, “is literally a lifesaver. People who spend less on housing costs have more money to spend on food and medical care.”25

How Neighborhoods and Schools Are Connected

Where you live in the United States matters greatly to your quality of life and the life chances of your children. It determines your odds of being safe, of getting a job, of accessing good healthcare, and of enrolling your children in strong public schools. Poor families who live (often because of government zoning) in low-opportunity neighborhoods with struggling schools and high crime rates face very different odds than poor families who live in higher-opportunity neighborhoods where schools are stronger and streets safer.26

Adults in high-poverty neighborhoods are often cut off from transportation and jobs, which can have a crushing effect on families. If a parent does not live in a neighborhood with good transportation options, commutes can become hours long. That can mean less time to help nurture a child when home after work.27 Miss one bus exchange, and a worker can get fired for showing up late, with devastating effects on the whole family.

Families in poor neighborhoods are also often cut off from healthcare. To take one example, Bethesda, Maryland, an affluent suburb of Washington, DC, has one pediatrician for every 400 children, compared to poor and predominantly Black Southeast DC, where there is one pediatrician for every 3,700 children.28 Poor neighborhoods are also more likely to have environmental hazards such as lead paint that can lead to lower IQ for children.29

Overall, the cumulative lifetime impact of neighborhood on opportunity can be enormous. A 2014 study estimated that “the lifetime household income would be $910,000 greater if people born into the bottom quartile of the neighborhood income distribution had instead grown up in a top-quartile neighborhood.”30

Education has long been viewed in American society as “the great equalizer.” But in practice, American schools are highly segregated by race and socioeconomic status, which defeats the equality goal. Research dating back five decades shows one of the most powerful ways to improve the life chances of disadvantaged students is giving them the opportunity to attend high-quality schools that educate rich and poor students under a single roof.31

Residential segregation, not gerrymandered school boundary lines, is the fundamental driver of school segregation.32 Policymakers, researchers, and advocates have long noted that it is important to pursue housing strategies that, if successful, could help integrate neighborhood schools. For example, one study that controlled carefully for students’ family background found that students in mixed-income schools showed 30 percent more growth in test scores over their four years in high school than peers with similar socioeconomic backgrounds in schools with concentrated poverty.33

A number of local programs have demonstrated the importance of where children grow up and go to school. In 1974, for example, Montgomery County, Maryland, adopted a groundbreaking inclusionary zoning program that years later was shown to have dramatic effects on the academic achievement of low-income students. Under the policy, when a developer builds more than a certain number of units, 12.5 to 15 percent of the new housing stock must be affordable for low-income and working-class families. Between 1976 and 2010, the program produced more than 12,000 moderately priced homes, of which the housing authority had the right to purchase one-third for public housing.34 Children in a subset of these units had the chance to attend middle-class schools.

More recently, Montgomery County implemented a second intervention: the school board allocated an additional $2,000 per pupil to schools in higher-poverty areas to allow for reduced class size in the early grades, extended learning time, and better teacher development.

In 2010, a researcher compared the effects of the inclusionary zoning and the compensatory spending programs on the academic outcomes of elementary school students.35 She examined 858 children who had been randomly assigned to subsidized housing units scattered throughout Montgomery County and who were enrolled in Montgomery County public elementary schools between 2001 and 2007 and asked: Who performed better—subsidized housing students in higher-poverty neighborhoods where schools have extra financial resources or similar students in lower-poverty schools that spend less? Over time, the effects of neighborhood and the poverty level of classmates trumped per-pupil spending. Low-income public housing students in low-poverty (“green zone”) schools performed far better in math than low-income public housing students in higher-poverty (“red zone”) schools with more resources. Low-income students in green zone schools cut their large initial math gap with middle-class students in half. The reading gap was cut by one-third. She estimated that most of the effect (two-thirds) was due to attending low-poverty schools, and some (one-third) was due to living in low-poverty neighborhoods.

New Jersey provides another example. In 1975, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mount Laurel that zoning laws that have the effect of excluding low-income families violate the state constitution. The court ruled that localities have an affirmative obligation to provide their “fair share” of moderate and low-income housing.36 Although implementation of the Mount Laurel decision has often proven difficult because of political opposition, thousands of low-income families have been able to move to low-poverty neighborhoods as a result of the decision.37

Researchers set out to compare the outcomes of families in subsidized housing who moved to Mount Laurel with those who applied but could not be accommodated because of space constraints.38 They found “significant improvements in mental health, economic independence, and children’s educational outcomes as a result of moving into the project.”39

The impact on families was very large. The people who moved, the study found, saw “a 428 percent increase in economic independence (e.g., working for pay, share of income from work),” and “a 303 percent increase in school quality (as assessed by class size, test scores, attendance rates, etc.).”40 Children who moved to Mount Laurel “study twice as many hours and spend more time reading. That extra effort is paying off—even though their schools are more academically rigorous, they earn slightly better grades.”41 (The researchers did not have access to test scores.)

At the end of the day, zoning laws, coupled with school attendance boundaries, conspire to shut millions of working-class families out of high-performing public schools. Under one set of housing laws, it is illegal to build multifamily housing, and under another set of school rules, it is illegal to travel from outside the district to attend schools that are in theory “public.” As one author wryly notes, the Palo Alto Unified School District in California is “free and open to the public. All the public has to do is buy a home in a neighborhood where the median home value was $2.8 million in 2020.”42

Fighting Back

The costs of the housing affordability crisis are manifold: it adds unnecessary stress and anguish to the lives of working people like Janet Williams; it causes overcrowding and its attendant health problems; it curbs the internal migration that has provided opportunities for families for generations; and it pushes people out to the periphery of metropolitan areas, where their long commutes damage the planet. All in all, the toll on America is terrible. The crisis is made profoundly worse by the government’s own zoning laws that make it illegal for builders to provide the housing that Americans need. But as members of a democracy, we can fight back. As I explain below, a broad coalition came together to defeat exclusionary zoning in Minneapolis, and momentum is building for federal legislation to end economic housing discrimination.

Neighbors for More Neighbors

Janne Flisrand, a white middle-class liberal activist in Minneapolis, came to the issue of housing through her work in education. In the late 1990s, she was running an after-school program tutoring kids from low-opportunity neighborhoods. She was frustrated that “the kids that we were working with and hanging out with kept disappearing.” When she’d investigate, she says, the children invariably had “some sort of housing instability story.” So Flisrand shifted her focus from education to work supporting subsidized housing for low-income families. After a decade, however, she felt, “we were continuing to lose ground.” She began to investigate “these deeper root economic rules” and zoning laws that at the time many “people didn’t know about” and that “nobody was talking about.”43

A community of like-minded individuals in Minneapolis began forming to slowly chip away at exclusionary zoning policies that kept housing scarce and less affordable. In 2014, Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Bender backed a successful plan to allow residents in single-family-zoned communities to add small in-law flats or accessory dwelling units (ADUs).44 At the time, one council member raised the specter of ADUs becoming houses of prostitution.45 But when some 140 ADUs were added and fears were not borne out, Bender was ready for more reform.46

So were Flisrand and other activists. In February 2017, a couple of Flisrand’s friends, John Edwards and Ryan Johnson, started an art campaign and an associated Twitter account to raise awareness of the ways in which exclusionary zoning hurt people. They called their Twitter account “Neighbors for More Neighbors.”47 Momentum for reform built when Jacob Frey, a young candidate for mayor of Minneapolis and himself a renter, made affordable housing “one of the centerpieces of his campaign.”48 In November 2017, activists were thrilled when Frey was elected mayor. Five new members were elected to the city council. The council as a whole now had 12 Democrats and one member of the Green Party.49 In January 2018, the council elevated Lisa Bender to council president.

In March 2018, word leaked to the media that the city council was considering allowing duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in areas previously zoned exclusively for single-family homes.50 “Quite a few council members reacted negatively,” Flisrand recalls, but the flip side was that advocates were also energized.51 She teamed up with Edwards and Johnson to create a new grassroots umbrella organization, taking the name of the Neighbors for More Neighbors Twitter account, to support Frey and Bender to do something no major city had ever accomplished: legalize duplexes and triplexes throughout an entire city in one fell swoop.52 Usually reforms to relax zoning laws are fought community by community. But Minneapolis wanted to legalize “missing middle”* homes throughout the city.

People were beginning to wake up to the idea, Flisrand says, that “there aren’t enough homes for all the people who want to live in a growing city and that that is harmful in a whole host of different ways.”53 While in the past, council and zoning meetings had been dominated by folks saying “I love my neighborhood and I don’t want it to change,” suddenly new voices were calling for housing that was more abundant and affordable. “That made it feel possible,” she says.54

But the odds were still very long, and there was plenty of reason to be skeptical. The proposal represented a big political lift and would require a major culture change. A city of 425,000 residents, Minneapolis had at the time one of the most stringent zoning policies, having banned duplexes, triplexes, and larger apartment buildings from 70 percent of its residential land.

Supporters of reform knew that in order to be successful, they needed to push a suite of comprehensive changes to supplement the signature issue of eliminating single-family exclusive zoning. Accordingly, the proposal also created the possibility of more housing density near transit stops by allowing new three- to six-story buildings. It proposed eliminating off-street minimum parking requirements, which can make development too costly. To minimize fears of displacement, it provided for inclusionary zoning by requiring that new apartment developments set aside 10 percent of units for moderate-income households. And it proposed increasing funding for affordable housing from $15 million to $40 million to combat homelessness and provide immediate relief to low-income renters.55

Neighbors for More Neighbors and its allies capitalized on the fact that Minneapolis, by law, was required every 10 years to go through a major planning process. In the larger framework, known as “Minneapolis 2040,” the city articulated several goals, but three in particular stood out: making the city’s housing more affordable by building more of it, making the city fairer by reducing racial and economic segregation, and combating climate change by reducing commutes and making housing more environmentally friendly.

In the campaign for change, Flisrand and others put racial and economic justice front and center. Of 14 goals outlined by supporters of the 2040 plan, eliminating racial, ethnic, and economic disparities was goal number one.56 Proponents of 2040 pointed directly to the role of single-family zoning in fostering segregation.57 Reformers explicitly pointed out the connection between local zoning and redlining. “Today’s zoning is built on those old redlining maps,” said the city’s long-range planning director Heather Worthington.58 “That history,” said Councilman Cam Gordon, “helped people realize that the way the city is set up right now is based on the government-endorsed and sanctioned racist system.”59

Flisrand and other activists knew that good arguments for zoning reform had been around forever. To get the proposal across the finish line, they needed to build a new coalition that included new voices not normally heard in fights over zoning. It was natural to ally with civil rights groups in Minneapolis given that civil rights groups nationally had been in the fight against exclusionary zoning for decades. The NAACP had been the key plaintiff in the 1975 Mount Laurel case in New Jersey. And the NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been a leader in “disparate impact” litigation, under which exclusionary zoning can be struck down when it has the effect of discriminating by race, even if intent is not shown.60

Supporters of the 2040 plan also put a major emphasis on gathering authentic input from community groups in the engagement process. The issue-based organization African Career, Education, and Resource supported the plan with extensive community engagement, at church and community meetings, on the basis of the philosophy, says the group’s program director Denise Butler, that “community members are the stakeholders, and they are the true experts of their environment.”61 Activists wanted to reach out to constituencies in Minneapolis who could tell the story of how they were personally hurt by exclusionary zoning.

Activists knew that wealthy white homeowners were going to make their voices heard.62 It was critical that lower-income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color have a seat at the table too. And so, says Flisrand, “The city made a point of creating an engagement pathway” for marginalized communities.63 Indeed, if there was a secret ingredient in Minneapolis’s success, it was community engagement, Flisrand said.64 Going back to 2016, members of the city’s Long Range Planning Team attended festivals and street fairs. The city also encouraged residents to hold “Meetings in a Box,” whereby individuals were provided forms and surveys to seek input from community members at a time and place that was convenient.65

Running parallel to this process, Neighbors for More Neighbors helped community members attend the council meetings, heavily covered by the media, and encouraged people to wear purple so that supporters could find one another and feel comfortable.66 The group also created purple lawn signs that sent a positive signal that we “want a city that is growing and welcoming.” In the end, says Flisrand, “Instead of hearing the same old powerful perspectives, we got to hear diverse perspectives.”67

Neighbors for More Neighbors also worked closely with organized labor and tenant groups that were deeply affected by the ways in which single-family exclusive zoning drives up prices of housing for everyone in a community. Many environmental and faith groups also joined in.

And many young people also supported the 2040 plan as a way of making Minneapolis neighborhoods more affordable, diverse, and walkable.68 Millennials are less economically secure than their parents or grandparents were when they were the same ages, and they feel the housing affordability pinch acutely.69

Paradoxically, some older Minneapolis residents also supported reform, often for very different reasons. Of course some older, wealthier residents resisted Minneapolis 2040, but others supported it, as did the AARP. The group has pushed for more flexibility to build backyard cottages or to subdivide a home into multiple units as a way for elderly residents to “age in place” while bringing in extra income from tenants.70

On December 7, 2018, this diverse coalition prevailed as the Minneapolis City Council ended single-family exclusive zoning citywide.71 By a 12–1 vote, the city council legalized duplexes and triplexes on what had been single-family lots, which “effectively triples the housing capacity” in many neighborhoods.72 (The one holdout was a council member from the wealthy southwestern section of Minneapolis, where schools are mostly white.73) The accomplishment was unprecedented. “No municipality has taken a more dramatic response to the housing gap than Minneapolis,” one observer noted.74

Supporters of the 2040 plan say its bold, sweeping scope may have made it easier to pass than more incremental reform. Traditionally, reformers have sought to “upzone” neighborhoods piece by piece, in part based on the theory that upzoning an entire city would consolidate opposition from disparate neighborhoods. But Worthington says going big—citywide—turned out to be a political advantage. “If we were going to pick and choose, the fight I think would have been even bloodier.”75 When only some neighborhoods are chosen for change, locals can feel singled out.76

Of course, the best way to ensure individual neighborhoods don’t feel singled out is through federal legislation.

An Economic Fair Housing Act

In August 2017, I proposed the idea of creating an Economic Fair Housing Act to make it illegal for government zoning to discriminate on the basis of income, just as the 1968 Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for parties to discriminate on the basis of race.77 It is time, a century after the Supreme Court struck down racial zoning, to outlaw unjustified economically discriminatory zoning.78 Although the private housing market would continue to function based on a consumer’s ability to pay, the idea behind an Economic Fair Housing Act is that local governments (and homeowners’ associations) should not themselves engage in economic discrimination by erecting artificial barriers to working-class people who wish to move with their families to higher-opportunity neighborhoods.79 When local governments adopt exclusionary zoning laws, which telegraph that less-advantaged families are unwelcome in a community, that government-sponsored income discrimination should be illegal.

Under an Economic Fair Housing Act, remedies for plaintiffs who prevail in court would include those available under the Fair Housing Act: covering monetary losses to the victims, the cost associated with the work of attorneys to bring the lawsuit, and injunctions that would prevent municipalities from continuing to discriminate.80 In addition, an Economic Fair Housing Act would ban source-of-income discrimination—the ability of landlords to discriminate against those using Section 8 housing vouchers, a practice that is currently legal in most states.81

Although many different proposals have been made for addressing exclusionary zoning and the housing crisis, a few key advantages of an Economic Fair Housing Act stand out. First, it would provide a comprehensive approach to exclusionary zoning. It would apply in every town and state in the country—not just those that want to participate in certain federal funding programs. Second, by giving plaintiffs the power to sue in federal court, an Economic Fair Housing Act seeks to minimize the ability of powerful political interests to neuter reforms. Third, it would put power in the hands of people who need it most: the direct victims of exclusionary zoning.

An Economic Fair Housing Act could be even more effective than the Fair Housing Act in curbing the disparate impact of government-sponsored discrimination.82 Not all discrimination is racial in nature, and an Economic Fair Housing Act would be broader and more inclusive by going after economic discrimination against poor and working-class people, including those who are white. And an Economic Fair Housing Act would also make it easier for low-income people of color to sue. Proving a disparate impact of exclusionary zoning on poor and working-class families should be easier than showing disparate impact on people of color because exclusionary zoning that bars more affordable types of housing from being built discriminates very directly on the basis of income and only indirectly on the basis of race. By their very nature, policies that drive up housing costs constitute government-sponsored income discrimination.

At a time when consumers are facing the highest rates of inflation seen in four decades, and policymakers are racking their brains about how to control costs for families, it makes no sense that state and local governments are employing practices that actively inflate housing costs.

Imagine how life would be different if we began to tear down the invisible walls that local governments erect to keep people apart. Imagine if the supply of housing weren’t artificially capped by zoning rules, and people like Janet Williams didn’t have to worry so much about whether to pay rent or buy groceries. If more affordable housing prices meant less homelessness. If people who wanted to move to coastal areas for a wage boost could do so because housing prices were not astronomical. If workers had less stress because they didn’t have to live on the outskirts of metropolitan areas and take two buses to work. If housing were built where people needed it so that auto emissions declined and we had fewer severe weather events.

Imagine if, because walls were coming down, metropolitan areas were less racially segregated and people met more neighbors who came from different racial and ethnic backgrounds—and as a result (according to 94 percent of studies) this interracial contact resulted in less racial prejudice.83 Imagine also what life would be like if more African Americans experienced the higher employment and higher wages that result from reduced segregation.

Imagine a United States in which low-wage workers of all races had the legal tools to fight government-sponsored economic discrimination in zoning; if people could fight back against humiliating policies that tell them they are unwanted in entire communities. If, as Richard Reeves observes, “a geography gap can become an empathy gap,” imagine a reversal of that reality: that as barriers came down, and we returned to an earlier time when people of different classes rubbed shoulders more often, understanding and empathy slowly grew and feelings of superiority began to ebb.84 In this type of society, tearing down the walls of separation is a form of patriotism because it helps us see other Americans as fellow citizens to be honored and cherished.85

Imagine, finally, the possibility of a more cohesive, less polarized democracy. As state-sponsored walls that divide Americans by race and class began to come down, imagine that people of different backgrounds—who currently live apart and easily demonize one another as political enemies—were more likely to converse and come to know one another as more than just members of an opposing political party.86 In this world, strong political differences would likely endure, as they do between extended family members, but if people had the chance to talk about sports, or their kids, it would become more difficult to see people from different political parties as just antagonists, and the chances of political compromise might increase.

The government-sponsored walls that divide us do enormous harm—blunting opportunity, making housing unaffordable, damaging the environment, segregating us by race and class, and doing significant injury to our fragile democracy. It is time to recognize the walls that separate us, and then proceed to tear them down.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a researcher and writer on education and housing policy, is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and a nonresident scholar at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Previously, he was a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. This article has been excerpted from Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don’t See by Richard D. Kahlenberg. Copyright © 2023. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

*Small homes (including duplexes, triplexes, and garden apartments) that are neither government subsidized nor expensive single-family houses are often called the “missing middle.” (return to article)

To learn about redlining, see “Suppressed History” in the Spring 2021 issue of American Educator. (return to article)


1. Janet Williams (pseudonym), interview by Michelle Burris and Richard Kahlenberg, January 27, 2021, 2.

2. Williams (pseudonym), interview by Burris and Kahlenberg, March 30, 2020.

3. Williams (pseudonym), interview by Burris and Kahlenberg, March 30, 2020, 1.

4. Williams (pseudonym), interview by Burris and Kahlenberg, March 30, 2020, 2.

5. Williams (pseudonym), interview by Burris and Kahlenberg, March 30, 2020, 8.

6. Wages need to be higher in America. See, for example, R. Kahlenberg and M. Marvit, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2012).

7. W. Fischel, Zoning Rules!: The Economics of Land Use Regulations (Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2015), 212.

8. Fischel, Zoning Rules!, 214.

9. M. Rognlie, “Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Shares,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, March 2015, 12–13, brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2015a_rognlie.pdf. See also R. Florida, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 32.

10. Fischel, Zoning Rules!, xii, 163, 201, 212–14.

11. M. Hartman, “Home Prices Rise Much Faster Than Wages and Consumer Prices,” Marketplace, National Public Radio, November 28, 2017, marketplace.org/2017/11/28/home-prices-rise-much-faster-wages-and-consumer-prices.

12. See Up for Growth, “2022 Housing Underproduction in the U.S.,” July 2022, upforgrowth.org/apply-the-vision/housing-underproduction; and E. Badger and E. Washington, “The Housing Shortage Isn’t Just a Coastal Crisis Anymore,” New York Times, July 14, 2022, nytimes.com/2022/07/14/upshot/housing-shortage-us.html.

13. S. Khater, L. Kiefer, and V. Yanamandra, “Housing Supply: A Growing Deficit,” Freddie Mac Research Note, May 7, 2021, freddiemac.com/research/insight/20210507-housing-supply.

14. See, for example, J. Gyourko and R. Molloy, “Regulation and Housing Supply,” NBER Working Paper no. 20536, National Bureau of Economic Research, October 2014, nber.org/papers/w20536.

15. D. Hertz, “One of the Best Ways to Fight Inequality in Cities: Zoning,” Washington Post, August 13, 2014, washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/13/the-best-way-to-fight-inequality-in-cities-is-through-zoning.

16. J. Schuetz, Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2022), 5.

17. Hartman, “Home Prices Rise Much Faster Than Wages and Consumer Prices.”

18. H. McGhee, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (New York: One World, 2021), 172 (re: 1970 ratio); and Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2021, 2 (price-to-income ratio in 2020 was 4.4).

19. D. Lind, Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing (New York: Bold Type Books, 2020), 180.

20. M. Karpman, S. Zuckerman, and D. Gonzalez, “Despite Labor Market Gains in 2018, There Were Only Modest Improvements in Families’ Ability to Meet Basic Needs,” Urban Institute, May 13, 2019, urban.org/research/publication/despite-labor-market-gains-2018-there-were-only-modest-improvements-families-ability-meet-basic-needs.

21. S. Brown and B. Braga, “Financial Distress Among American Families: Evidence from the Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey,” Urban Institute, February 14, 2019, urban.org/research/publication/financial-distress-among-american-families-evidence-well-being-and-basic-needs-survey.

22. National Public Radio, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Affairs, The Impact of Coronavirus on Households Across America (Cambridge, MA: September 2020), 6 (Table 1) and 14 (Table 2), drive.google.com/file/d/1Bd6dcGSke4fm8TyEjAz__UFXl1k1z8oP/view.

23. W. Airgood-Obrycki, A. Hermann, and S. Wedeen, The Rent Eats First: Rental Housing Unaffordability in the US (Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, January 2021), jchs.harvard.edu/research-areas/working-papers/rent-eats-first-rental-housing-unaffordability-us.

24. J. Llobrera et al., “New Data: Millions Struggling to Eat and Pay Rent,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, September 23, 2020, cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/new-data-millions-struggling-to-eat-and-pay-rent.

25. Lind, Brave New Home, 180.

26. D. Massey and N. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 149, 169, 178–79.

27. S. Ifill, “FHEO Speaker Series: The Problem We All Live With: Residential Segregation and Urban Policy,” YouTube video, 1:01:12, HUDchannel, June 5, 2015, youtube.com/watch?v=3dB2vGWmIvg.

28. See C. Kubrin and G. Squires, “Privileged Places: Race, Opportunity and Uneven Development in Urban America,” NHI Shelterforce Online 147 (Fall 2006): academia.edu/2769587/Privileged_Places_Race_Uneven_Development_and_the_Geography_of_Opportunity_in_Urban_America.

29. J. Harris and B. Appelbaum, “Blue States, You’re the Problem: Why Do States with Democratic Majorities Fail to Live Up to Their Values?,” New York Times video, 14:20, November 9, 2021 nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000007886969/democrats-blue-states-legislation.html.

30. D. Massey and J. Rugh, “The Intersections of Race and Class: Zoning, Affordable Housing, and Segregation in US Metropolitan Areas,” in The Fight for Fair Housing: Causes, Consequences, and Future Implications of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act, ed. G. Squires (New York: Routledge, 2018), 246–47 (summarizing J. Rothwell and D. Massey, “Geographic Effects on Intergenerational Income Mobility,” Economic Geography 91, no. 1 [2014]: 83–106).

31. For a summary, see R. Kahlenberg and H. Potter, A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 2014), 58–63; R. Kahlenberg, All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001), 32–34; and R. Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 217.

32. T. Monarrez, “School Attendance Boundaries and the Segregation of Public Schools in the United States,” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 15, no. 3 (July 2023): 210–37, aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/app.20200498#:~:text=Residential%20segregation%20alone%20explains%20more,small%20compared%20to%20residential%20choice.

33. G. Palardy, “Differential School Effects Among Low, Middle, and High Social Class Composition Schools,” School Effectiveness and School Improvement 19, no. 1 (2008): 37.

34. C. Chancellor and R. Kahlenberg, “The New Segregation,” Washington Monthly, November/December 2014; and H. Schwartz, “Housing Policy Is School Policy,” in The Future of School Integration, ed. R. Kahlenberg (New York and Washington, DC: Century Foundation, February 28, 2012).

35. Schwartz, “Housing Policy Is School Policy.”

36. Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mount Laurel, 67 N.J. 151 (1975), 174, 189, 190, and 212.

37. J. Blumgart, “The Fight for the Mount Laurel Doctrine,” Next City, February 4, 2013, nextcity.org/urbanist-news/the-fight-for-the-mount-laurel-doctrine.

38. See Massey et al., Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 5, 72 (comparing public housing residents in Mount Laurel with a control group of those who applied but could not be accommodated).

39. Massey et al., Climbing Mount Laurel, 6.

40. Massey and Rugh, “The Intersections of Race and Class,” 259.

41. David L. Kirp, “Here Comes the Neighborhood,” New York Times, October 20, 2013, nytimes.com/2013/10/20/opinion/sunday/here-comes-the-neighborhood.html.

42. M. Stewart, The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021), 112.

43. Janne Flisrand, interview by Richard Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 3–4.

44. J. Lee, “How Much Will Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan Actually Help with Housing Affordability in the City?,” Minnpost, May 31, 2019, minnpost.com/metro/2019/05/how-much-will-minneapolis-2040-plan-actually-help-with-housing-affordability-in-the-city; J. Edwards, “The Whole Story on Minneapolis 2040,” Wedge Times-Picayune, December 13, 2018, wedgelive.com/the-whole-story-on-minneapolis-2040.

45. Edwards, “The Whole Story on Minneapolis 2040”; and Wedge Live, “Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson Predicts Doom over ADUs in 2014,” YouTube video, 1:35, March 10, 2017, youtube.com/watch?v=I-CrltFkiow.

46. Lee, “How Much Will Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan Actually Help?” (140 ADUs); and Bender’s thoughts, paraphrased in H. Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation,” Slate, December 7, 2018, slate.com/business/2018/12/minneapolis-single-family-zoning-housing-racism.html.

47. H. Grabar, “‘Talk to Your Friends About Zoning’: A PSA Campaign for the NIMBY in Your Life,” Slate, February 13, 2017, slate.com/business/2017/02/talk-to-your-friends-about-zoning-a-psa-campaign-for-your-nimby-neighbors.html; and @MoreNeighbors, “Neighbors for More Neighbors,” Twitter, twitter.com/MoreNeighbors?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor.

48. P. Callaghan, “Inclusionary Zoning: Will Minneapolis See It This Year?,” Minnpost, February 19, 2018, minnpost.com/politics-policy/2018/02/inclusionary-zoning-will-minneapolis-see-it-year; and Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation.” (Frey may be the city’s “first tenant mayor.”)

49. Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation”; Janne Flisrand, interview  by Richard Kahlenberg and Tabby Cortes, July 8, 2019; Rick Varco, interview by Richard Kahlenberg and Tabby Cortes, July 9, 2019; and Edwards, “The Whole Story on Minneapolis 2040.”

50. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 9.

51. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 18.

52. Edwards, “The Whole Story on Minneapolis 2040”; and Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 5.

53. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 10.

54. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg, February 3, 2022, 12, 14.

55. Lee, “How Much Will Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan Actually Help?”; K. Capps, “2018 Was the Year of the YIMBY,” CityLab, Bloomberg, December 28, 2018 (Minneapolis follows Buffalo, Hartford, and San Francisco); Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation”; Edwards, “The Whole Story on Minneapolis 2040”; N. Munene and A. Berc, “Minneapolis Inclusionary Housing Policy Framework Is Needed Throughout the Region,” MinnPost, December 13, 2018, minnpost.com/community-voices/2018/12/minneapolis-inclusionary-housing-policy-framework-is-needed-throughout-the-region; E. Trickey, “How Minneapolis Freed Itself from the Stranglehold of Single-Family Homes,” Politico, July 11, 2019, politico.com/magazine/story/2019/07/11/housing-crisis-single-family-homes-policy-227265; J. Charles, “Will Up-Zoning Make Housing More Affordable?,” Governing, July 2019, governing.com/topics/urban/gov-zoning-density.html; and P. Sisson, “Can Minneapolis’s Radical Rezoning Be a National Model?,” Curbed, November 27, 2018, curbed.com/2018/11/27/18113208/minneapolis-real-estate-rent-development-2040-zoning.

56. Minneapolis City Council, Welcome to Minneapolis 2040: The City’s Comprehensive Plan (Minneapolis: 2019), 8–13.

57. Trickey, “How Minneapolis Freed Itself from the Stranglehold of Single-Family Homes.”

58. Sisson, “Can Minneapolis’s Radical Rezoning Be a National Model?”

59. Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation.”

60. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, “Economic Justice, Case: Disparate Impact,” naacpldf.org/case-issue/disparate-impact.

61. Denise Butler, interview by Richard Kahlenberg and Tabby Cortes, July 12, 2019.

62. K. Einstein, D. Glick, and M. Palmer, Neighborhood Defenders: Participatory Politics and America’s Housing Crisis (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 103–5. See also S. Holder and K. Capps, “The Push for Denser Zoning Is Here to Stay,” Bloomberg, May 21, 2019, bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-21/to-tackle-housing-inequality-try-upzoning.

63. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg and Cortes, July 8, 2019. See also C. Berkovitz, “Is a Better Community Meeting Possible?,” Century Foundation, August 20, 2019, tcf.org/content/commentary/better-community-meeting-possible.

64. J. Flisrand, “Minneapolis’ Secret 2040 Sauce Was Engagement,” StreetsMN, December 10, 2018, streets.mn/2018/12/10/minneapolis-secret-2040-sauce-was-engagement.

65. Berkovitz, “Is a Better Community Meeting Possible?”

66. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg and Cortes, July 8, 2019.

67. Flisrand, “Minneapolis’ Secret 2040 Sauce Was Engagement.”

68. Editorial Board, “Americans Need More Neighbors,” New York Times, June 15, 2019, nytimes.com/2019/06/15/opinion/sunday/minneapolis-ends-single-family-zoning.html.

69. Lind, Brave New Home, 88.

70. Trickey, “How Minneapolis Freed Itself from the Stranglehold of Single-Family Homes”; and Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation.”

71. Editorial Board, “Americans Need More Neighbors.”

72. S. Mervosh, “Minneapolis, Tackling Housing Crisis and Inequity, Votes to End Single-Family Zoning,” New York Times, December 13, 2018; and J. Schuetz, “Minneapolis 2040: The Most Wonderful Plan of the Year,” Brookings, December 12, 2018, brookings.edu/articles/minneapolis-2040-the-most-wonderful-plan-of-the-year.

73. Flisrand, interview by Kahlenberg and Cortes, July 8, 2019.

74. Lee, “How Much Will Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan Actually Help?”

75. E. Badger and Q. Bui, “Cities Start to Question an American Ideal: A House with a Yard on Every Lot,” New York Times, June 18, 2019, nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/18/upshot/cities-across-america-question-single-family-zoning.html.

76. Badger and Bui, “Cities Start to Question an American Ideal” (citing Salim Furth of the conservative Mercatus Center). In June 2022, a judge temporarily suspended 2040 on the basis that it had not gone through proper environmental review, but in July 2022, the court allowed implementation, at least for the time being. M. Sepic, “Minneapolis 2040 Plan Back in Play as Lawsuit Grinds On,” Minnesota Public Radio, July 26, 2022, mprnews.org/story/2022/07/26/minneapolis-2040-plan-back-in-play-as-lawsuit-grinds-on.

77. See R. Kahlenberg, “An Economic Fair Housing Act,” Century Foundation, August 3, 2017, tcf.org/content/report/economic-fair-housing-act.

78. R. Kahlenberg, “The Walls We Won’t Tear Down,” New York Times, August 3, 2017, nytimes.com/2017/08/03/opinion/sunday/zoning-laws-segregation-income.html.

79. Kahlenberg, “An Economic Fair Housing Act.” See also Equitable Housing Institute, “Economic Fair Housing Act of 2021: Partial Draft Bill and Comments,” November 30, 2020, equitablehousing.org/images/PDFs/PDFs--2018-/EHI_Economic_FHA_of_2021_draft-rev_11-30-20.pdf, 12. (“This section does not independently require the provision of housing at public expense.”)

80. Equitable Housing Institute, “Economic Fair Housing Act,” 3.

81. Equitable Housing Institute, “Economic Fair Housing Act,” 10–22. Even in states that have adopted source-of-income discrimination laws, violations can be common, so resources for enforcement are important. See, for example, M. Haag, “‘She Wants Well-Qualified People’: 88 Landlords Accused of Housing Bias,” New York Times, March 15, 2021, nytimes.com/2021/03/15/nyregion/real-estate-lawsuit-section-8-discrimination.html.

82. Having said that, an Economic Fair Housing Act would be less far-reaching than the Fair Housing Act in other respects. The Fair Housing Act prohibits private-sector landlords from discriminating on the basis of race, whereas the Economic Fair Housing Act would limit its antidiscrimination protection in the private sector to source-of-income discrimination, not to income per se. In a market system, a landlord remains free to discriminate on the basis of ability to pay.

83. L. Tropp, Benefits of Contact Between Racial and Ethnic Groups: A Summary of Research Findings; Testimony in Support of New York City School Diversity Bills; Hearings on Diversity in New York City Schools (Washington, DC: National Coalition on School Diversity, December 11, 2014), school-diversity.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Tropp-written-testimony-for-New-York-City-Schools-12-2014.pdf, 1–2. (Of 515 studies from 38 countries between the 1940s and 2000, 94 percent found greater interracial contact is associated with reduced racial prejudice.)

84. R. Reeves, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2017), 106.

85. See G. Packer, Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021), 175 (invoking the concept of Francis Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s labor secretary, that “patriotism” was “based upon the love of men and who were fellow citizens”).

86. More racially segregated cities tend to have higher levels of political polarization. R. Dottle, “Where Democrats and Republicans Live in Your City,” FiveThirtyEight, May 20, 2019, projects.fivethirtyeight.com/republicans-democrats-cities. See also J. Engle, “Do You Think You Live in a Political Bubble?,” New York Times, May 7, 2021, nytimes.com/2021/05/07/learning/do-you-think-you-live-in-a-political-bubble.html.

[Illustrations by Michela Buttignol]

American Educator, Winter 2023-2024