February 04 2019 | Papers

How Minimum Zoning Mandates Can Improve Housing Markets and Expand Opportunity

Joshua D. Gottlieb


Dramatic differences in income, productivity, and housing costs within the United States make geographic mobility important for spreading prosperity. But Americans’ ability to move to places like San Francisco, Boston, and New York in search of economic opportunities is limited by severe restrictions on new housing supply in these productive places. State-level Minimum Zoning Mandates (MZMs) allowing landowners to build at a state-guaranteed minimum density, even in municipalities resistant to development, would be an effective means of encouraging denser housing development. These MZMs would improve housing affordability, spread economic opportunity more broadly, and limit the environmental impact of new development.

This idea should appeal to voters and policymakers across the political spectrum. For those who are concerned about inequality, improved housing availability has the potential to help the most disadvantaged Americans. By making it easier for disadvantaged workers to access jobs, MZMs should increase employment, worker productivity, and ultimately earnings. Those who care about property rights should welcome a tool to override unnecessary restrictions on those rights. Finally, those who focus on making the best use of limited resources will recognize the benefits of using valuable land more efficiently.

Geographic Disparity, Inequality, Regulation