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"Land Use Regulations and Housing Segregation,"

by Aviva Rothman-Shore & Kara E. Hubbard May/June 2009 issue of Poverty & Race

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston is currently developing a visual presentation illustrating the connection between current land use regulations and housing segregation.

With an emphasis on land use regulations and a geographic focus on Eastern Massachusetts, our project is intended to help demonstrate to both communities and policymakers that the forces behind housing segregation go beyond affordability. A significant component of our project involves the synthesis of information from previously written reports about the discriminatory effects of zoning, but we are also presenting an exciting new perspective. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, we are combining land use regulation data with the recently unveiled Massachusetts “opportunity maps” from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Through this collaboration, we will explore the connection between land use regulations and access to areas of high opportunity.

Description of Our Presentation

The presentation is intended to be an educational tool geared towards a variety of audiences, including policymakers, local officials and residents. Because of the wide range in audiences, the project does not take an overly academic tone. Our methodology consists of three components: (1) a historical timeline of policies that have contributed to housing segregation; (2) a power point presentation explaining in more detail the policies highlighted by the time line; and (3) a series of analytical maps.

(1) Historical Timeline

The primary aim of the timeline is to depict how housing regulations have shifted from policies that explicitly contribute to segregation to policies that contribute more implicitly (e.g., location of subsidized housing in high-poverty areas). Policies that have helped lessen the impact of segregation are also included, such as the recent amendment of the local preference regulations by the state’s Department of the Housing and Community Development. The Massachusetts DHCD stipulates that cities and towns can only specify local preferences for up to 70% of affordable units. Preferences were revised to only include current residents, municipal/school department employees and employees of local businesses, and not family of local residents.

In addition: (1) communities must demonstrate the need for local preferences and demonstrate that they will not have a disparate impact on protected classes; (2) the subsidizing agency must approve the local preference scheme; (3) durational residential preferences are not permitted; and (4) advertising cannot include any local preferences.

(2) Power Point

Data gathered from Route 128: Boston’s Road to Segregation, a 1975 report issued by the Massachusetts Committee Against Segregation, was used to explain how while redlining institutionalized racial segregation in the cities, it was the development of the suburbs via the construction of Route 128 that magnified the effects of segregation by increasing the physical separation between whites and people of color. Municipalities responded to the subsequent in-migration of jobs and people to the suburbs by enacting rigid zoning ordinances. Zoning regulations were created to control density, protect open space, and artificially inflate housing prices. Strict zoning restrictions are still in use today and can have a disparate impact on African Americans and Latinos, and in particular family households, because they limit affordability and the number of rental multifamily housing opportunities.

To illustrate the impact of current zoning regulations, our project relies heavily upon information gathered from the Housing Regulation Database, a joint effort by the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research and Harvard University’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. The database contains information regarding zoning codes, subdivision requirements and environmental regulations in 187 Eastern and Central Massachusetts communities. The Housing Regulation Database has fueled several research reports that informed our project and provided the necessary data to illustrate clear links between land use regulations and housing segregation, particularly in three areas: large minimum lot size requirements, multifamily zoning, and age-restricted zoning.

Below are some key findings from the Housing Regulation Database and the subsequent research reports:

• More than half (95) of the municipalities in Greater Boston zone over 50% of their land area for lot sizes of 1 acre per home or greater.
• 14 municipalities within 50 miles of Boston zone more than 90% of their land for 2-acre lot sizes, and 27 municipalities zone more than 90% of their land for at least 1-acre lot sizes.
• In Regulation and the Rise of Housing Prices in Greater Boston, Edward L. Glaeser, Jenny Schuetz and Bryce Ward found that as the minimum lot size increases by 1 acre, the share of affordable homes (a home for which an average resident of the region could afford to pay 30% of income) drops by 8%.
• 43% of the municipalities have over 90% of their land zoned for single-family use, and another 27% of municipalities have between 81-90% zoned for single-family use.
• In Housing and Land Use Policy, Amy Dain reports that only 10% of the municipalities prohibit multifamily housing outright, but the rest regulate such development so tightly that building such housing is infeasible. Dain found that age-restricted housing is driven by municipal policy, not market demand. Senior housing is often more readily accepted because such households are perceived as only having a positive fiscal impact on communities, unlike families with school-aged children.

(3) Analytical Maps

Our work synthesizes the zoning data from the Housing Regulation Database with opportunity mapping data. In partnership with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity recently released The Geography of Opportunity: Building Communities of Opportunity in Massachusetts. This report includes a series of opportunity maps that document the spatial segregation of opportunity in the state. For example, more than 90% of African-American and Latino households in 2000 were isolated in the areas of lowest opportunity in Massachusetts. The Kirwan Institute put forward five classifications of opportunity through the use of 19 indicators which were then assessed separately in three opportunity areas (educational, economic, and neighborhood/housing quality).

Our first maps investigated the spatial segregation of subsidized housing in areas of low opportunity in Eastern Massachusetts as well as the racial breakdown of households across areas of high and low opportunity. For these maps, we utilized data from the 2000 U.S. Census via MassGIS, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. One significant finding from our maps was the geographic concentration of projects using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program in areas of low and very low opportunity. Only 14% (41) of the 289 LIHTC projects in Greater Boston are located in either high- or very-high-opportunity areas, whereas 79.6% (230) are located in low- or very-low-opportunity areas.

The bulk of our analytical mapping focused on illustrating the relationship between zoning and access to housing in areas of high opportunity. For these maps, we used data from the Housing Regulation Database and its subsequent reports, as well as the opportunity data from the Kirwan Institute. Our study area included the following Massachusetts counties: Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, Norfolk and Plymouth. Boston was excluded because it was not included within the Housing Regulation Database.

Our hypothesis was that the suburban municipalities in high-opportunity areas would have strict land use regulations that help sustain housing barriers, especially for lower-income families and people of color. To investigate this hypothesis, zoning data were overlaid on the opportunity maps. The restrictiveness of each municipality’s zoning regulations was then assessed using three categories: (1) no allowance for multifamily housing; (2) age-restricted zoning regulations; and (3) large average minimum lot size requirements for multifamily housing. Opportunity data within the municipalities with strict zoning regulations were then assessed to determine if there is a relationship between land use regulations and barriers to areas of high opportunity.

Results of the Research and Potential Application

Our maps represent the first time that opportunity mapping data in Massachusetts have been explored through a zoning lens. These maps help to illustrate that land use regulations, while not overtly discriminatory, contribute to spatial segregation both in terms off access to housing and to areas of high opportunity. Our results found that the 80% of the census tracts in municipalities with restrictive zoning were either very-high or high-opportunity as compared to 43% in the remaining municipalities.

Below is a summary of the results of our map series for Eastern Massachusetts:

• 11 of the municipalities have zoning regulations that outlaw multifamily housing completely.
• 47 municipalities have zoning bylaws that impose age restrictions on multifamily housing in any zoning district (municipalities divide their land by zoning districts and then determine what can be built in each district based on the zoning).
• 34 municipalities had an average minimum lot size requirement of 1 acre or greater for multifamily housing.
• 75 municipalities were found to have restrictive zoning. Within these 75 municipalities, there are 228 census tracts. 46% (106) are in very-high-opportunity areas, 34% (77) are in high-opportunity areas, 16% (36) are in moderate-opportunity areas and 4% (9) are in low- opportunity areas. There are no areas of very-low-opportunity within the 75 municipalities with strict zoning.
• 71 municipalities were found to not have restrictive zoning. Within these 71 municipalities, there are 456 census tracts. 33% (77) of these tracts are either very-low-opportunity or low-opportunity (73). 24% (111) are moderate-opportunity, 21% (96) are high-opportunity and 22% (99) are very-high-opportunity.

It is important to note that the data presented above are limited in scope. The zoning regulations were assessed based only on data from the Housing Regulation Database and subsequent reports. Consideration was not given to how the regulations are actually implemented on the ground. For example, some municipalities may technically zone for multifamily housing but only in districts that are already built out to capacity. Further investigation of the impact of the regulations at the local level would be needed to draw a more thorough conclusion.

The final version of our visual presentation will soon be placed on the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston’s website at www.bostonfair, where it can be used to educate a wide range of audiences. The Fair Housing Center plans to use the presentation at community meetings to help residents understand the impact of local regulations. The presentation could also be used to inform policymakers or practitioners in related fields. For further information about the project or to receive a status update, contact Aviva Rothman-Shore, 617/399-0491 or via email.

Aviva Rothman-Shore is Outreach and Policy Director at the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston.
Kara E. Hubbard will receive her Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts Univ. in May 2009, following which she will join HUD as a Program Analyst.

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