Adobe Stock/Amy Walters

One way for cities and developers to work together to find new opportunities for more housing is to change zoning. However, it's proving to be very difficult. New zoning proposals are shaking up the dynamics and often leading to dead ends. What's the magic formula?

As cities and states around the U.S. propose to rezone areas in order to solve problems such as housing shortages and poor connectivity to jobs, they could be creating other problems: gentrification, and angry neighborhood activists.

On the one hand, some say more housing is needed to accommodate influxes of new residents and businesses to growing communities. On the other hand, others say rezoning that allows for new development can inadvertently drive out low-income residents and local businesses and — with little warning or time to adjust — alter the character of neighborhoods.

“Jurisdictions are beginning to understand that up-zoning in order to absorb growth has unintended consequences — it increases the value of the real estate and therefore increases displacement pressures,” says Nora Liu, northwest regional manager for the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national initiative spearheaded by the nonprofit Race Forward that is working with jurisdictions around the country to pioneer equitable development strategies.

“If an area is rezoned, it needs to be done with parallel strategies to strengthen communities, so that people in the communities can thrive in place,” Liu adds.

Competing needs of new development and neighborhood preservation have surfaced in a number of land use projects around the country. Neighborhood activists and politicians fear unforeseen impacts like displacement, big-box business growth, and a loss of landmarked buildings that rezoning or other development projects could have on communities — and they often lose the fight.

Read More