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  • Hugh Manatee

On Zoning and Housing Policy

Welcome back to the Cal Habitat housing blog! Today, we will break down what zoning means, delve into discriminatory housing practices, and expand on our discussion of the housing element from last time.


Zoning refers to the process by which city governments designate "zones" that have different rules for development. Zoning policies determine the housing density or the concentration of housing in a given area. To bring back the terms we introduced in our first blog entry to describe the two mainstream players in the housing debate, YIMBYs tend to support higher density, while NIMBYs do not.

Single-family zoning is a type of zoning that only allows single homes to be built in an area, contributing to gentrification. Gentrification describes the dispossession and displacement of low-income communities of color as wealthier white people move into their neighborhoods. The city of Berkeley, which was the first to adopt single-family zoning in 1916, abolished it in 2021.

Another form of exclusionary housing policy that, while no longer in practice, has undoubtedly shaped the racial geography of cities today is redlining. The history of redlining began in 1933 when the Home Owners Loan Corporation produced residential maps of neighborhoods to identify mortgage lending risks for real estate agents and lenders. These maps drew from the racial composition of communities to determine whether they would be labeled as "desirable" or "hazardous." These practices led to discriminatory lending and allowed lenders to enforce local segregation standards. People who lived in or wanted to move into these areas were denied loans or only provided loans on much worse terms than their counterparts who could access non-redlined areas due to their ethnicity or economic status.

Today, segregation is solidified with discriminatory zoning practices and the unavailability of affordable housing. As they work on the housing element that will apply for the next eight years, the city is emphasizing their commitment to ending exclusionary zoning or zoning practices – such as single-family zoning – that are often used to exclude low-income communities of color. To stay updated on the housing element, you can subscribe to their mailing list.


If you are a student looking to meet housing needs, look at the Basic Needs Center for more information on finding housing.


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