Question of the Week: How Do I Pitch Gradual Upzoning to My City as a Housing Affordability Strategy?


Every Friday, we take one of the best questions we’ve been asked on the Strong Towns Knowledge Base, and we answer it. This week, we’re tackling housing affordability, which we know is an important issue to many of our readers and members. And we’ve compiled a bunch of the best resources and arguments Strong Towns has to offer, to help you understand and present the case for allowing more homes in neighborhoods that can use them. Check it out.

Think we missed something important? Add it yourself in the comments on the Knowledge Base! The Strong Towns Knowledge Base is a living document, and it’s meant to be crowd-sourced—because there’s no way our staff can answer everything a reader might want to know. But we bet the collective wisdom, insight, and experience of our movement can!


How Do I Pitch Gradual Upzoning to My City as a Housing Affordability Strategy?

Housing affordability is a hot topic in many American cities, and there’s significant reason to believe that one of the factors driving up home prices is rules that limit the supply of new housing. These can be zoning regulations that dictate what can be built where, or rules such as mandatory parking minimums or minimum lot sizes that affect the feasibility of building a home on a given piece of land.

When regulations create an artificial scarcity of homes in neighborhoods—or even whole cities or regions—where many people want to live, the cost of existing homes in those places will tend to rise, as people compete for a limited supply. (The Sightline Institute made this memorable video comparing it to a game of Musical Chairs.)

When there's a housing shortage, those who do build homes will tend to build very expensive ones, because they can easily find enough people willing to buy or rent them. This issue is explored in the article, "Why Are Developers Only Building Luxury Housing?"

The range of policy responses to housing unaffordability is extremely broad and contentious, but one often-proposed response is upzoning, which means changing the zoning regulations in an area to allow denser, taller, and/or more intense development than was previously allowed. This is done in the hope that building more homes will reduce the competition for housing, and thus cause rents in the area to stabilize or drop.

To understand how to look at and argue for gradual upzoning through a Strong Towns lens, let’s split it into two questions: “Why upzoning?” and “Why gradual?”

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(Cover photo: camknows via Flickr)