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Fair Housing & Zoning


Zoning ordinances are local laws that regulate the type, size, and mix of housing and other land uses may be built in a given locality or neighborhood. These laws have a dominant influence on housing opportunity through their impact on housing costs and supply. Excessive zoning restrictions on new housing construction—particularly on diverse housing types—not only increase the cost of housing, they also contribute to racial and ethnic residential segregation. Discretionary approval processes for apartments and other residential projects create opportunities for bias, prejudice, and misinformation—either from local officials or from the people who speak at zoning and planning meetings—to influence what kind of housing gets built in a neighborhood and, correspondingly, who is able to live there.


How Can Zoning Violate the Fair Housing Act:

  • Some of America's earliest zoning codes (such as Baltimore's 1911 ordinance) were explicitly racial and banned people of certain races and ethnicities from living in certain neighborhoods. 

  • Many zoning codes exclude people with disabilities from living in certain neighborhoods by placing restrictions on Group Homes that do not apply to housing for other unrelated groups of adults.

  • Denying a reasonable accommodation to a zoning ordinance (such as not allowing a ramp to be constructed in a building setback)

  • Taking some zoning-related action—such as denying a special permit or making a zone change—in order to exclude potential residents based on their membership in a protected class (local officials may violate the Fair Housing Act by making such decisions based on discriminatory beliefs of their constituents even if they do not hold those beliefs themselves).


Zoning and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing


Even in instances where a zoning ordinance does not violate the Fair Housing Act, municipalities may still amend the ordinance to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing by, for instance:

  • Removing restrictions on larger housing units that are suitable for families with children.

  • Removing restrictions on multifamily housing that would be subject to the Fair Housing Act's design and construction standards for people with disabilities.

  • Removing restrictions on more affordable housing types, particularly in communities where economic class can be used as a proxy for race and/or ethnicity

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