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Be careful when zoning

Mike Lai
Friday September 20, 2002

To the Editor: 

While zoning in theory may in practice help keep development orderly it has often been used as a tool to keep ethnic minorities and the poor out of neighborhoods. After the Supreme Court held racially restrictive covenants to be illegal in the late 1940s, white-flight suburbs often resorted to restrictions like requiring large lot sizes and prohibiting the building of apartments to keep the undesirables out.  

Re-examining our regulations on housing development is even more important in light of the exorbitant housing prices in this area. The prices are high because we have a housing shortage. Building more housing will bring the prices down. Landlords may not like that, but the rest of us will benefit. Government subsidies for affordable housing certainly will help, but unless we have the political resolve to impose much, much higher taxes we will have to count on the private sector to produce the bulk of the housing stock. Consequently, we should be doing utmost to encourage the private development of housing.  

When people are going hungry, we would not prevent private groups from helping and ask them instead to wait for the government to step in. Why should we treat housing any differently? 

Dense urban housing may not always be pretty, but the alternative of homelessness (not to mention the conversion of farmland and wilderness into suburbs) is much worse. Instead of debating whether to support density, we should be talking about how to make such development work aesthetically, economically, and socially. 


Mike Lai