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The Push for Denser Zoning Is Here to Stay

Residential “upzoning” policies being adopted from Minneapolis to Seattle were once politically out of the question. Now they’re just politically fraught.
California's ambitious bill to allow denser pockets of housing has seen fierce opposition. But the fight is far from over.
California's ambitious bill to allow denser pockets of housing has seen fierce opposition. But the fight is far from over.Rich Pedroncelli/AP

To understand local housing politics over the past several decades, consider a recent study out of Boston University. Political science professor Katherine Levine Einstein surveyed all of the minutes for zoning and planning meetings about housing across 97 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The study, which Einstein conducted with her colleagues Maxwell Palmer and David Glick, covers housing-cost-burdened cities like Boston but also older industrial cities such as Lawrence and Worcester.

“In every single city and county we studied, the advantaged dominated the proceedings,” Einstein said at a recent Brookings Institution panel on housing. Residents who are older, men, longtime residents, local voters, and homeowners are much more likely to participate in these meetings. And they are much more likely to oppose new construction than the general public.