A new Redfin study reveals that 53 percent of buyers and sellers oppose high-density housing despite the fact it would significantly improve affordability.

Single-family home prices increased in 91 percent of the nation’s metros during Q2 2019, with more than half of those metros experiencing home price growth greater than 5 percent year-over-year. Once again, stagnant inventory levels were to blame for bubbling prices. What gives?

Some housing experts have said that massive zoning reforms that enable more multi-family, high-density housing could be the golden key to affordability issues — lower-income households would have access to safe and sanitary housing in burgeoning neighborhoods, and higher-income buyers could experience a price break too.

But, according to a Redfin study released last week, buyers and sellers are more keen on locking zoning reform up and throwing away the key. Fifty-three percent of the 3,000 survey respondents said they support zoning policies that would keep multi-family, high-density housing out of their neighborhoods.

When the results were broken down by demographics, African-Americans were equally as likely to support or oppose high-density zoning policies. Meanwhile, Caucasians (56 percent vs 23 percent), Latinx/Hispanic-Americans (46 percent vs 34 percent), and East Asian/Asian-Americans (49 percent vs 32 percent) were more likely to vote against these measures.

Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather said the racial divide on this issue stems from years of government-sanctioned redlining and other discriminatory policies that kept minorities out of wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods.

“People who don’t want dense housing in their neighborhood often reason that they don’t want to see the character of their neighborhood change,” said Fairweather in the report. “Minorities, however, may be less likely to have sentimental feelings about the types of housing that characterize their neighborhoods because zoning policies have often contributed to racial inequality through segregation.”

“However, the minorities who do oppose dense zoning may be opposed to the gentrification that accompanies dense luxury condos and apartments,” he added.

When it comes to income, Redfin found that buyers and sellers of all incomes were more likely to oppose high-density zoning policies. But when race and income were factored together, it turns out that African-Americans’ support of high-density housing decreased as their income moved higher. For example, 54 percent African-Americans with incomes greater than $200,000 were against high-density housing — a turnabout from the previous statistic of 39 percent.

Lastly, there was a clear-cut generational divide in those who supported or opposed high-density zoning policies. Homebuyers and sellers aged 65 and over were four times as likely to oppose high-density developments (64 percent vs 15 percent) while those aged 25 and under were the only age demographic more likely to support high-density zoning measures (41 percent vs 36 percent).

Homebuyers and sellers’ negative outlook on multi-family, high-density housing is stifling affordability and widening the divide between communities on a racial and economic level, said Fairweather, who pointed to Minneapolis and Oregon as an example.

“In places like Minneapolis and Oregon that have already banned single-family zoning, we may see white-flight to areas where single-family homes remain segregated from multi-family homes,” he said.

On the other hand, there are cities such as Des Moines, that are downzoning, meaning that more land is being solely dedicated to single-family detached homes.

According to reports by housing policy sites StreetsBlog and CityLab, Des Moines’ Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a measure that new single-family homes must be built on lots larger than 7,500 feet. Moreover, the homes must have a full basement, single-car garage and driveway.

This change is part of the city’s Des Moines 2040 plan — the city’s first major rezoning effort since 1965. Affordable housing developers and advocates, such as Habitat for Humanity, have said the plan will disproportionately impact minority communities with lower median incomes.

Des Moines planning administrator Michael Ludwig told Curbed that the plan will, despite what some detractors say, help bolster affordable housing due to a more streamlined zoning code.

“Contrary to articles about the plan, the idea is to streamline construction, create a more sustainable city, and allow for more missing middle and affordable housing,” he said. “The amount of attention the square footage requirement is getting is doing a disservice to what this code does and encourages.”

No matter which plan individual cities decide to adopt, Fairweather says there’s likely to be some major affordable housing reform coming from the federal level, especially if presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris take over the Oval Office.

“Even though pro-density zoning is unpopular among most homebuyers, presidential candidates from both sides of the political spectrum recognize it as a necessary policy for addressing housing affordability,” he said. “Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have policies that aim to undo damaging racist zoning policies like redlining.”

“President Trump also wants to redesign zoning laws to allow for more dense housing, but with a more free-market approach.”

Email Marian McPherson

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