Q: Is single-family zoning racist?


Q. Is single-family zoning racist?

A. I’d argue that’s the wrong way to frame the question.  The right way is…

…”does single family zoning have racially invidious effects?”

To this, the answer is “yes.”  It doesn’t matter what motivated the 1920’s innovation we now know as “single family zoning.” It doesn’t matter why people today may like single family zoning.  Intent has nothing to do with effect, and until or unless income and wealth in the United States between Whites and African-Americans becomes more equal, the effect of single family zoning is racially invidious.

In King County specifically, African-American households are nearly twice as likely to live in homes in attached through 9-unit multi-family than White households (28% versus 16%). And African-Amercian households are close to half as likely as White households to live in single-family detached homes (34% versus 59%).

Whatever a any person or group’s motivations, there is no way to impose single-family zoning on any piece of land, neighborhood, or community without stacking the deck against African-American households being able to live there in favor of White households living there.

So let’s just put this one to bed: the racially invidious effects, here and now, of single-family zoning aren’t dependent on history and don’t require impugning anyone’s motivations.  It’s simply a matter of making people aware of its effects–and then it’s up to them to choose what they see fit to do about them.

(Data is from 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) available at http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml ).



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