How the US made affordable homes illegal

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The rules that keep American housing expensive.

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Over the past year, housing prices in the US rose precipitously. Low interest rates and millennials’ entry into the market spiked demand across the nation, leading housing prices in some cities to increase by more than 20 percent in one year, and crushing the dreams of many would-be homeowners.

But housing prices in the US were a problem long before 2020 — and while demand is a big part of the story, there’s an even bigger reason it’s increasingly difficult for Americans to find affordable housing: We don’t have enough houses. According to one estimate, the US is now facing a nearly four-million-home shortage. And the primary reason for that shortage is what’s called exclusionary zoning.

Zoning laws are the local rules and regulations that decide what types of homes can be built where. These rules can sometimes have good intentions. But they also have a dark history in the United States as a tool to keep certain races, religions, and nationalities out of white neighborhoods. And while zoning laws in the US are no longer explicitly racist, their effect remains basically the same: to keep affordable housing, and the people who need it, away from the wealthiest Americans.

Today, in the majority of the US, especially in cities with good jobs, it’s illegal to build many affordable types of housing. And it’s led to a widespread affordability crisis. Watch the video above for more.

Sources:
Jerusalem Demsas reports on housing policy for Vox, and she’s written a ton about this issue:
Houses are getting more and more expensive. There’s a simple fix for that: https://www.vox.com/22464801/housing-bubble-market-crash-supply-shortage-great-recession
What it’ll take to fix America’s housing rules: https://www.vox.com/22252625/america-racist-housing-rules-how-to-fix
The housing shortage is making discrimination a lot easier: https://www.vox.com/2021/5/26/22453293/housing-supply-shortage-discrimination-real-estate-cover-letters
Why the housing market boomed despite the recession: https://www.vox.com/22264268/covid-19-housing-insecurity-housing-prices-mortgage-rates-pandemic-zoning-supply-demand

The zoning maps in the video came from UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute: https://belonging.berkeley.edu/single-family-zoning-san-francisco-bay-area

Other data sources:
Redfin: https://www.redfin.com/us-housing-market

Freddie Mac: http://www.freddiemac.com/research/insight/20210507_housing_supply.page

US Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/construction/nrc/historical_data/index.html

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