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You say goodbye and I say hello. Will local zoning give way to a federal replacement?


The economist, Milton Friedman, was a proponent of local government authority. He posited that if he was unsatisfied with his community, he could simply move to another community he found desirable. However, moving from a state or country is far more difficult. Local government power includes the adoption of zoning regulations. Pennsylvania has 2,561 municipalities, and most have their own zoning codes. Zoning can, at times, unfairly shape where people live and how they live. The federal government has little influence on local zoning decisions, except for certain environmental regulations.

Local governments argue that zoning decisions are best made by those most affected – local residents. Sometimes, however, pejorative zoning power is often vested in a few individuals with uniquely personal perceptions about what is best for the community. The result may be an institutional bias against affordable housing in favor of “exclusionary” single-family zoning. Exclusionary zoning can be created explicitly, as in the form of minimum lot size requirements, or implicitly by expensive fees and exactions that drive up construction costs and housing prices. Critics argue that single-family zoning districts increase housing costs, create unwanted sprawl and perpetuate racial segregation.

President Biden’s recently announced infrastructure plan proposes to remedy the shortage of affordable housing. Proponents argue that homeownership is too expensive to be affordable and that single-family zoning must be “killed off” so as to eliminate the resulting inherent racial and social inequities. Opponents argue the plan will create a much higher density, burdening schools, public safety, and the environment while driving up property taxes.


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