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To Create More Affordable Housing, Make Zoning Hyperlocal

What if residents on a single block could make their own decision to allow denser housing? 

Accessory dwelling units like this second backyard home in Los Angeles are one way to create more affordable housing. But they are not permitted by zoning rules in many places. 

Accessory dwelling units like this second backyard home in Los Angeles are one way to create more affordable housing. But they are not permitted by zoning rules in many places. 

Photographer: Allison Zaucha for The Washington Post via Getty Images

When Sacramento proposed changing its zoning rules to allow four homes on land that had permitted just one, something remarkable happened: The reform passed city council, unanimously, with little of the outrage over new housing that’s long haunted California politics. The public comments were overwhelmingly supportive. Politicians lined up to praise the measure, which passed this January — even San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who presides over a city where such “fourplexes” are mostly illegal. Sacramento now joins other U.S. cities, including Portland and Minneapolis, that have legalized the construction of more homes in more places.

If ever there were a moment for pro-housing, “Yes In My Backyard” reforms that allow for the development of denser housing, it should be now. In many U.S. cities, housing costs have ballooned beyond the reach of millions of Americans, and evidence suggests that restrictions on where you can build are largely to blame. Local reforms like Sacramento’s are a growing trend, although so far, they remain relatively rare among cities with expensive housing markets.