The Impact of Land Use Regulation on Racial Segregation: Evidence from Massachusetts Zoning Borders
Local zoning regulations such as minimum lot size requirements and restrictions on the permitting of multi-family housing may exacerbate racial segregation by reducing in some neighborhoods the construction of units that appeal to prospective minority residents. Although this hypothesis has long been recognized by urban economists and other social scientists, the lack of uniform land use data across jurisdictions has made empirical progress difficult. Using detailed spatial data available for all municipalities in Massachusetts I investigate the impact of density zoning regulation on location choices by race. Capitalizing on the geographic detail in the data, I focus on variation in block-level racial composition within narrow bands around zone borders within jurisdictions, mitigating omitted variable concerns that arise in studies focusing on larger geographic units. My results imply a large role for local zoning regulation, particularly the permitting of dense multi-family structures, in explaining disparate racial location patterns. Blocks zoned for multi-family housing have black population shares 3.36 percentage points higher and Hispanic population shares 5.77 percentage points higher than single-family zoned blocks directly across a border from them. Using the results to simulate an equalization of zoning regulation across the metro area suggests that over half the difference between levels of segregation in the stringently zoned Boston and lightly zoned Houston metro areas can be explained by zoning regulation alone.