The Human Cost of Zoning Regulation

In Holland, Michigan, Susan Gray wants to house homeless teen boys in a church she bought. She bought the property first, and only later discovered there weren’t adequate support services for the vulnerable homeless teen population in her area: the closest alternative homeless shelter is around 30 miles away.

But Gray’s plan to use the church to house homeless kids is receiving pushback from the local Planning Commission, because the zoning ordinance doesn’t permit group homes in this location.

Gray’s experience is far from unusual. Just last week, in Harvard, Illinois, the city zoning commission roundly rejected a plan to build housing for elderly residents. And in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a church has undergone a lengthy legal battle because the city takes issue with its strategy of using tiny homes on church property to house the homeless.

Land use regulations might seem benign, but they affect lives in countless ways. Zoning regulations, the most common form of land use regulations, invest broad discretionary power in municipalities. But those same municipalities are subject to intense interest group pressure. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that municipalities often use zoning and land use regulations as a weapon to block housing for low and middle income residents.

This problem continues to grow. My studies show that the quantity of annually generated land use regulations more than doubled in the United States between 1980 and 2010 alone, as measured by related appellate court cases. The quantity of zoning regulation nearly doubled during the same three-decade period. The national population only grew 37 percent during this timeframe, so regulatory growth far outpaces population growth.

Read more of this Cato At Liberty blog post by Vanessa Brown Calder by clicking here.