White House Study Links Land Use Policies to Inequality


In a “white paper” released on Monday, the Obama administration likens restrictive land use policies to income inequality.  The report notes, “Over the past three decades, local barriers to housing development have intensified, particularly in the high-growth metropolitan areas increasingly fueling the national economy.”

The paper finds that, among other things, income inequality, plodding economic growth, gentrification, long commutes, the strained safety net, homelessness, and racial segregation can be explained at least partially by the restrictive land-use policies of American cities, counties and suburbs.

They write, “The accumulation of such barriers – including zoning, other land use regulations, and lengthy development approval processes – has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand. The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions.”

The reports identifies “locally-constructed barriers to new housing development,” which includes “beneficial environmental protections, but also laws plainly designed to exclude multifamily or affordable housing.”

They write, “Local policies acting as barriers to housing supply include land use restrictions that make developable land much more costly than it is inherently, zoning restrictions, off-street parking requirements, arbitrary or antiquated preservation regulations, residential conversion restrictions, and unnecessarily slow permitting processes.”

“The accumulation of these barriers has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand,” the report concludes.

Accumulated barriers to housing development can result in significant costs to households, local economies, and the environment:

  • Housing production has not been able to keep up with demand in many localities, impacting construction and other related jobs, limiting the requisite growth in population needed to sustain economic growth, and limiting potential tax revenue gains.
  • Barriers to housing development are exacerbating the housing affordability crisis, particularly in regions with high job growth and few rental vacancies.
  • Significant barriers to new housing development can cause working families to be pushed out of the job markets with the best opportunities for them, or prevent them from moving to regions with higher-paying jobs and stronger career tracks. Excessive barriers to housing development result in increasing drag on national economic growth and exacerbate income inequality.
  • When new housing development is limited region-wide, and particularly precluded in neighborhoods with political capital to implement even stricter local barriers, the new housing that does get built tends to be disproportionally concentrated in low-income communities of color, causing displacement and concerns of gentrification in those neighborhoods. Rising rents region-wide can exacerbate that displacement.
  • The long commutes that result from workers seeking out affordable housing far from job centers place a drain on their families, their physical and mental well-being, and negatively impact the environment through increased gas emissions.
  • When rental and production costs go up, the cost of each unit of housing with public assistance increases, putting a strain on already-insufficient public resources for affordable housing, and causing existing programs to serve fewer households.

Modernized housing regulation comes with significant benefits:

  • Housing regulation that allows supply to respond elastically to demand helps cities protect homeowners and home values while maintaining housing affordability.
  • Regions are better able to compete in the modern economy when their housing development is allowed to meet local needs.
  • Smart housing regulation optimizes transportation system use, reduces commute times, and increases use of public transit, biking and walking.
  • Modern approaches to zoning can also reduce economic and racial segregation, as recent research shows that strict land use regulations drive income segregation of wealthy residents.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. Matthew

    Very happy to see this happening. It’s about time the Feds use the power of the purse strings to hold municipalities, states and regions accountable for disastrous planning policies.

  2. quielo

    It really depends on whether policy should be for the benefit of existing residents or newcomers. Not everybody wants to live in a megalopolis. “Inclusionary zoning” has no track record of success I am aware of. 

    I believe that this reports, chiding mostly other Democrats, will will be completely ignored.

  3. Tia Will

    The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families”

    Some local thoughts on “jeopardizing housing affordability for working families”.

    I have opposed several recent housing projects not in order to block people from establishing their homes in Davis, but because I do not believe that the wealthy are in need of help with housing.  I do not believe in “trickle down” housing for the simple reason that the Bay area provides a steady stream of people to whom home prices here seem affordable at levels that most local “working families” cannot afford. I opposed both the Cannery  ( partially ) and the initial Trackside on this basis.

    I would not have opposed “little a” affordable housing project on either site. What each of these developments would do is to provide housing for those who are already affluent while doing nothing to help those who are trying to reach the lower rung of the housing equity ladder. The talk is about increasing density and housing supply, while the reality is about luxury housing for the affluent and “good investments” for those who already have enough to invest. This, in my  view, is hardly a means to decrease inequity.


    1. quielo

      This paper is notable for what it does not contain, any type of commitment from the federal government to offset the costs of growth. They like to talk about “smart growth” which of course is not the same as “cost-free growth” but do not offer to pay anything other than eighty cents a person for the entire country. Not sure how far they think eighty cents will take LA or SF.

      “Lowered region-wide barriers to new housing development would lead to more equitable distribution, allowing neighborhoods to retain character and resources as they evolve, while facilitating effective affordable housing preservation options by preventing excessively rapid change that generates displacement and dislocation.”

      The report is full of sweeping generalizations like this. Not sure how they feel that changing zoning will allow “neighborhoods to retain character” other than the fact that is will all look the same from inside the beltway.


    2. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I do not believe in “trickle down” housing

      I’m not going to tell Tia that she has to “believe” in “trickle down” housing (just like I am not going to tell Republican politicians who “believe” a woman that is raped can’t get pregnant).

      Most (but not all) rich people like nice new homes and nice new cars and everywhere the government does not restrict the number of new homes and new cars that can be sold you have rich people buying new homes and cars and selling their old homes and cars to middle class people who then sell their older homes and cars to poor people at great prices.

      Just like Davis puts severe restrictions on the number of new homes Cuba puts severe restrictions on the number of new cars.  In Davis crappy old homes are expensive just like in Cuba crappy old cars are expensive.  In most of America (and anywhere else in the world where the government does not restrict supply) you can buy a nice used home or nice used car for less than 25% of the cost of a new one.

      P.S. I’m wondering that if Tia supports the government forcing developers to build “affordable” housing if she would support the government forcing car companies to build “affordable” cars (or forcing restaurants sell a certain percentage of “affordable” meals each day)?

      1. Tia Will

        South of Davis

        I do not support the government “forcing” developers to build affordable housing. What I would favor is “incentivizing” them to do so by making it more advantageous for them to do so than not to do so.  if you cannot build unless you must provide some affordable housing, you will have a major incentive to provide some.

        As for your “trickle down” idea. It would be nice if that were actually what is happening in this area. But since my daughter and I just bought a 1910 house in Sacramento, and I had extensive discussions with my real estate agent and team, your lovely scenario of rich people buying ever larger and newer homes, thus providing their old homes to others further down the economic chain is simply not holding true in this area. What is happening in a number of neighborhoods in Sacramento is what happened to the house we purchased. It was bought, for cash 5 months ago by a couple moving here from the Bay area. They decided they wanted a house with a pool instead and bought their preferred home, again with cash. They put their 5 month old “new” home on the market, and there were 4 bidders on the property ( all of us very comfortable apparently). My daughter and I won providing them with a good deal on the “flip”.

        No modest income family in Sacramento benefitted ( unless you consider my daughter modest income…..which is she is as a co-teacher). But then, she could not have bought the house without my backing. The unit my daughter had to move out of was in a triplex also purchased by Bay area migrants. No one of modest income was helped. All tenants are going to have to leave so that the new can remodel and either resell or up the price for the new tenants. According to the seller of my daughter’s old triplex and my realtor, this is happening all over the more desirable ( and older) areas of Sacramento just as it is here in Davis.

        The other point of disagreement that we have is that wealthy people want to purchase newer homes. It is my experience that many wealthy people purchase for area and ambience or other features, not necessarily for newer construction.

        1. quielo

          “if you cannot build unless you must provide some affordable housing, you will have a major incentive to provide some” You example really blurs the line between incentivizing and forcing. 


          Are doctors forced to have a medical license, no but you can’t practice without one.

    3. Sam

      “I do not believe in “trickle down” housing”

      So if you simply rename a proven economic theory, in this case the law of supply and demand is now called “trickle down”, then you can ignore all of the data used to prove that theory and say you don’t believe in it.


        1. Sam

          I am glad that everyone missed the point of my comment.

          If you increase the supply of anything, the cost of that thing will decrease. You can call that supply and demand, trickle down, trickle up or whatever else you want it does not change simple facts.

          If an insurance company  change the name of ovarian cancer to “trickle down” can they deny treatment because they now believe that untreated “trickle down” will not kill you?

      1. quielo

        Perhaps I am the only one on this board who remembers Reagan. For the youngsters, his theory was that if a rich person bought a ferrari then a poor person could make half a shekel washing it.

        No relationship to supply and demand at all.


        We do in fact currently have a “trickle down” housing market as poor people cannot afford newly built houses so they need to buy used ones that have been depreciated. Depreciation is most bigly in declining neighborhoods.  Our housing policies prevent us from building new houses that are within the affordability of the very poor unlike countries like Mexico See: https://acrosstheborder.wordpress.com/2008/10/08/garage-doors-as-tijuana-homes/



        1. Sam

          Are you talking about when Regan decreased taxes thus increasing the supply of money available for private investment in businesses and increasing the demand workers and decreasing the supply of workers available and increasing the wages paid to those workers because of the shortage of labor available? Nope never heard of it and if that did happen I can’t trickle it having anything to do with supply and demand.

          If your goal is to lower the price of housing then build a ton of housing and ALL housing prices will drop. Just look at vacancies in Davis in the 90’s when they built a ton of apartment buildings especially in South Davis. Those apartments were not cheap “affordable” places to live, but it increased vacancies and softened prices.

  4. Edison

    SOD: Some have argued that the federal government in fact already does force car companies to build “affordable” cars, but it happens indirectly. The federal government requires vehicle companies to meet a certain fleet average fuel economy target. This forces the companies to build a certain number of relatively small, low-price vehicles that get high miles per gallon (mpg).  However, it has been well documented that the most popular vehicles being sold now are SUVs, crossover SUVs and trucks, which typically get lower MPG. The factories can literally not keep up with demand for those vehicles (but they need to keep building high MPG cars to offset the low MPG of the vehicles that sell better). That’s been cited as one of the reasons that GM settled the pending strike so quickly at its Canadian engine factory, which makes engines for SUVs and trucks built across the border in the USA.  It has been pointed out by those studying the issue that the car companies make so little profit on the small, high mileage cars the feds force them to build that this is a major factor impelling the companies to move production of those cars to areas with low labor wages, i.e., Mexico.   The companies continue building the vehicles with the higher profit margin here in the US.

    Another interesting aspect of the affordable housing issue:  I’ve read that after Seattle adopted its new minimum wage ordinance (which I believe is $15/hour), fast food firms stopped opening new stores in Seattle.  Instead, they’re opening new outlets in the suburbs surrounding Seattle, which have yet to pass similar wage ordinances.  The end result is fewer entry level jobs in Seattle for lower income people. If they’re seeking a job at McDonalds or Burger King, they will increasingly need to drive long distances to those jobs in suburban locations, thereby exacerbating the jobs-housing mismatch.

    1. Chamber Fan

      I find it interesting HF, that you raised this point after you tried and failed to do so last week at the Scoping Meeting.  What did the residents tell you at that point?  That they had been taken care of except for one person?

      What we really need is affordable housing, rather than Affordable Housing.

    2. South of Davis

      HF wrote:

      > It seems to me that the most immediate threat to true

      > affordable housing in Davis is the Lincoln 40 project that

      > actually tears down affordable housing.

      I have read that if Lincoln 40 is approved and built they will have to pay fees for the construction of affordable housing if they decide not to include any on site.  Based on the small number of people currently living on the Lincoln 40 site I understand that the city should end up with even MORE affordable housing if Lincoln 40 moves forward.

      P.S. If the city has made recent changes that will exempt Lincoln 40 from paying for affordable housing please post a link to the document…

  5. Frankly

    What is missing in this is the explosion in codes, regulation and taxes that have driven up the cost of development.   For example, title 24 in California has caused a net 30+% in the cost of new development and sometimes much more to renovation projects because nanny government thinks it needs to force people to be energy efficient.

    So we have the double whammy.   No-growers (usually liberal communities) combined with government (usually liberal Democrat) making development scarce so they (usually liberals) keep their communities gated and exclusive.

    1. Chamber Fan


      For once on these matters you are right.  Davis is a city of hypocrites.  Affordable housing, but over there.  But of course, you’re not even willing to acknowledge how far that elitism actually goes in this town.

      1. South of Davis

        Chamber Fan wrote:

        > Davis is a city of hypocrites.  Affordable housing,

        > but over there.

        It is funny how many people in town “say” they want more poor people in town, yet I have never heard of anyone (who could afford not to) selling their expensive home in Davis to move to an area with more poor people (much easier than “demanding” that Trackside or Lincoln 40 rent to the poor)…


        1. quielo

          Compared to my last town ($1,039/ square foot) Davis is “affordable”. Anyway when the feds pony up serious money then I will pay attention. Obama is just throwing out the trash in his final months.


        2. Tia Will


          So if you simply rename a proven economic theory, in this case the law of supply and demand is now called “trickle down”, then you can ignore all of the data used to prove that theory and say you don’t believe in it.”

          I obviously did not make myself clear. I did not mean that I do not believe that “trickle down” or supply and demand if you like exists. What I intended to say was that I do not believe that, in this area, it serves the group of people that I believe are in need of assistance. I do not believe hat it will help those of modest income or less for the reasons I stated.

        3. Sam

          Tia-The pent up demand for housing in Davis (and the Bay Area) caused mostly by the inability to build in both regions is what is causing the homes to be unaffordable. I understand that adding 100-200 units of housing in Davis is not going to change prices because the demand is so high right now. Do you really believe that if someone added 100,000 new apartments in the West Village that apartment rents (and the cost of homes) in Davis would not go down?


  6. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    It is funny how many people in town “say” they want more poor people in town, yet I have never heard of anyone (who could afford not to) selling their expensive home in Davis to move to an area with more poor people (much easier than “demanding” that Trackside or Lincoln 40 rent to the poor)…”

    If you have never heard of anyone having done this, it is because you have not been listening. I moved from my home in North Star, a much more affluent community over all,  into a much more modest home and neighborhood on 3rd and J St which happens to be inhabited by students and others in relatively inexpensive apartments and much less grandiose homes. The cul de sac at the end of my street opening onto the tracks,  happens to be a stones throw from the homes that are currently on the Lincoln40 site. It is also 1/2 block from from, until quite recently, and encampment of the homeless. I did not move because I had to, but because I wanted to. I grew up in and missed a mixed community. I did not love nor ever want the trappings of a big home in a doctor predominant neighborhood.

    So if you have never heard it before……you have now.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I moved from my home in North Star, a much more

      > affluent community over all,  into a much more modest

      > home and neighborhood on 3rd and J St which

      North Star and Old East Davis are in the same “community” (they are even in the same Zip Code).

      Homes around Downtown Davis are actually on average MORE expensive per square foot that North Star.

      > So if you have never heard it before…

      I still have never heard it before, let me know when you (or anyone else who has enough money to stay in Davis) moves to a real poor area like West Sac or West Oakland…

      P.S. If you spend enough time in Downtown Davis you will meet quite a few aging boomer “empty nesters” who have moved there from El Macero, West Davis and even South of Davis…

  7. Misanthrop

    There is a consensus developing when the Obama Administration and Geographer Joel Kotkin agree that restrictions on adding supply are driving prices to unaffordable levels. All the nitpicking over where to build and what to build in Davis only serves to maintain higher and higher prices for existing property owners. That Davis has refused to grow through restrictions on annexation while the university has been hectored by lawsuits has resulted in the community falling farther and farther behind in the supply of housing the community needs as the university continues to grow. Saying we need less housing for rich people but more housing for poor is simply obstructionist nonsense. The reality is we need all classes of housing, rich, affordable, student, rental, owner occupied, empty nestor, single family, multi-family, in-fill, high density, low density, peripheral. We are a generation behind in housing in Davis. Anybody who says otherwise is being nothing but self serving.

    1. South of Davis

      Misanthrop wrote:

      > All the nitpicking over where to build and what to build in

      > Davis only serves to maintain higher and higher prices

      > for existing property owners.

      It is not PC to come out and say it but for most people in or near retirement that own a Davis home (or homes) the equity in that home (or homes) represents the bulk of their net worth.  Most (but not all) would rather have every new UCD student or employee in town commute in from a neighboring city than risk even a slight drop in the value of their home (or homes) from new development.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for