Advocating For Zoning Reform

Zoning needs a complete rethink — and planners are well positioned to be champions for local change.

Antiquated zoning laws are negatively impacting communities and effectively crippling housing choice by limiting opportunities, reinforcing segregation, driving up the cost of housing, and unfairly favoring single family, low-density housing. It's even contributing to worsening the climate crisis. Fixing this development tool is imperative as planners work to bridge the racial wealth gap and increase economic opportunity for all.

APA supports zoning code reform to ensure communities can provide residents with greater housing choice at lower costs. Overhauling outdated local and state codes that set parking minimums, restrict multifamily housing options in certain neighborhoods, and prohibit innovative solutions like accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are problematic and should change. As communities and states take fresh looks at broken growth tools, planners can be champions for improving local rules using good plans to drive real change.

See how planners, APA and its partners are working to advance zoning reform from the federal level to the local level.

Federal Action

Pushing for incentives for code reform is atop planners' federal agenda in 2021. With APA's help, planners are making inroads in both parties on legislation that would deliver assistance to planners working to build political will for change.

  • APA was one of 250 organizations supporting the reintroduction of the bipartisan Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY) Act that encourages communities to play a constructive role in solving the housing crisis. Recognizing and eliminating discriminatory housing policies - zoning and density restrictions, onerous parking requirements, and other regulations - is an essential first step in decreasing barriers to new housing of all price levels.
  • The bipartisan Housing Supply and Affordability Act — which APA helped craft — would give planners and communities access to new funding and technical assistance to overhaul local rules that continue to stymie housing supply and availability.

For additional resources, check out APA's Housing Policy Guide, which identifies policy solutions to address dire housing challenges including accessibility, affordability, and availability.

State Action

  • Massachusetts passed a zoning reform bill that updates the state's land use law, in which APA Massachusetts Chapter among other allies has worked for years to advance zoning reform.
  • In Connecticut, several pieces of legislation focus on housing and zoning reform. The APA Connecticut Chapter has testified and indicated support for legislation that adopts a holistic approach to zoning, housing, and land use reform.
  • In South Carolina, APA South Carolina member Susan Britt, AICP testified before state senate on bill changes that would make easier the development of affordable workforce housing.

Local Action

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently released this video, illustrating the importance of zoning reform.

Additionally, action has been taking place across cities, including:

  • Minneapolis was the first major city in the U.S. to eliminate single-family zoning.
  • Portland, Oregon raised the bar on zoning reform last summer when it moved to legalize up to four homes on almost any residential lot.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina's, city council has voted to uphold changes to its single-family zoning in the city's comprehensive plan.

Shape Federal and State Policy

Interested in helping shape federal and state policy? Join the Planners' Advocacy Network, free to APA members. Enjoy access to exclusive issue briefings and tools designed to sharpen your advocacy skills.

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About the Authors
Emily Pasi is APA's Public Affairs Manager. Roberta Rewers is APA's Communications Manager.

May 20, 2021

By Emily Pasi, Roberta Rewers