Is Zoning a Barrier to Multifamily Housing?

Zoning Practice — July 2007

By Gerrit Knaap, Megan Rhodes, AICP


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Evidence from a variety of sources makes a compelling case that the United States has a housing affordability problem for moderate- and low-income households. The causes of this problem are complex and controversial, but regulations imposed by local governments — specifically zoning — are clearly among them.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the Fannie Mae Foundation contracted with the National Center for Smart Growth of the University of Maryland to conduct research on possible barriers that zoning might create for the development of high-density, multifamily housing. It assumes a need for some regulation of housing and land markets (e.g., building codes and certain aspects of zoning and subdivision ordinances), and defines a regulatory barrier to certain housing types as a government requirement or process that significantly impedes the development or availability of that housing.

This issue of Zoning Practice discusses the results of a study using U.S. Census Bureau and local zoning and GIS data to compare key housing indicators across six metropolitan areas.


Page Count
Date Published
July 1, 2007
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Gerrit Knaap
Gerrit-Jan Knaap is Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Executive Director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research at the University of Maryland. Knaap earned his B.S. from Willamette University, his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, and received post-doctoral training at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all in economics. Knaap’s research interests include the interactions between housing markets and policy, the economics and politics of land use planning, the efficacy of economic development instruments, and the impacts of environmental policy. On these subjects, Knaap has authored or coauthored over 65 articles in peer refereed journals, and coauthored or co-edited nine books. He received the Chester Rapkin award for the best paper published in Volume 10 of the Journal of Planning Education and Research, with Greg Lindsey, he received the 1998 best of ACSP award, and in 2006 he received the Outstanding Planner Award from the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association. Funding for his research has been provided by the National Science Foundation, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Town Creek foundation, and numerous other federal, state, and local government agencies. He currently serves on the State of Maryland’s Smart Growth Subcabinet, Sustainable Growth Commission, Governor’s Scientific Advisory Panel, and the Mitigation and Science workgroups of the Climate Commission.

Megan Rhodes, AICP