“Though well-intentioned, zoning laws have gone far beyond their original aim.”
A large regulatory state means that it is difficult to know or follow the regulations that impact us directly. But for young people, policies that affect us are frequently overlooked for more glamorous or exciting policy issues. Policies like land-use regulation, for example, are rarely discussed, despite being a large part of young people’s lives.
Why Should I Care About Zoning Laws?
Land-use regulation, more colloquially called zoning laws, dictate large portions of our lives and greatly shape our communities. But not all zoning laws do so positively. By restricting lower-cost or higher-density options, zoning laws exclude large groups of people from accessing housing. Artificial limits on supply like zoning laws, height restrictions, requirements for parking, and minimum lot size requirements drive prices up, making it difficult for young people to get their start.
Why Do We Have These Laws?
Zoning laws were originally created to protect public health and prevent residents from getting sick from living too close to factories. Though well-intentioned, zoning laws have gone far beyond their original aim. Excessively restrictive zoning largely contributes to the housing affordability problem. Zoning itself is not inherently problematic, but zoning laws that distort the market and negatively impact people are a serious issue and should be addressed.
As Usual, the Solution is Less Government
Government intervention in the housing market pushes up prices, making it harder for young people to find housing and get their start. The distortions from urban policy have made it difficult for young people to find a place to live that accommodates their needs. Without land use regulation, real estate developers could build more affordable housing options. As basic economics would demonstrate, if zoning laws were reduced, housing supply would rise, and prices would fall. This would make it easier to find housing for a better price.
From limiting the heights of buildings to the number of units, zoning laws create an unnecessary barrier for young people. As Millennials and Gen-Z flock to cities to start their careers and families, zoning may play a big part in preventing them from achieving their big city dreams.
Advocating against land-use regulations might not be as glamorous as other public policy issues, but it is still an important part of the political landscape. Streamlining zoning laws could help change our communities for the better. For young people especially, these reforms could help supply meet demand, thus better meeting their needs.
Susannah Barnes is a senior economics major from Midland, Michigan. Susannah has loved politics and policy since she began speech and debate in eighth grade. Since then, her passion for economic and political freedom has only grown. On campus, Susannah is the co-captain of the Debate Society and serves as the Executive Administrative Editor for the Grove City College Journal of Law and Public Policy. Additionally, she works in the Admissions Office and as a Public Relations manager and Teacher’s Assistant for the Economics Department.
Susannah interned at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University as a Media Relations Intern first through the Koch Internship Program in 2019 and again in 2020. Before that, she interned as a Communications Intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. After graduation, Susannah hopes to work in communications for a think tank and get a graduate degree in economics.