The Basics: Zoning and Land-Use

Zoning Matters: How land-use policies shape our lives – Urban Institute
A quick video that provides a good introduction to what zoning is, why it started, and the need for reform.  

Zoning and Land Use Strategies for Housing – Housing Toolbox for Massachusetts Communities
This Massachusetts-focused guide was developed by Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP). It includes a quick introduction to zoning, along with more in-depth information on how zoning can be used to create a diverse and affordable housing stock.

State of the State: Reports on housing in Massachusetts

State of Multi-Family Housing – Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance
Published in 2018, this report from Amy Dain details the state of zoning for multi-family housing in the 100 cities and towns of Greater Boston – not including Boston. 

Greater Boston Housing Report Card – The Boston Foundation
Published annually, the most recent report from 2023 provides regional level information and analyses on metrics such as housing supply, prices, and affordability. 

Out of Reach – National Low-Income Housing Coalition
Nationwide report that documents the gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing. For information on Massachusetts, refer to pages 130-136.

2022 Housing Underproduction in the U.S. – Up for Growth
Nationwide report that calculates underproduction – defined as the difference between total housing need and total housing availability – for each state. Their calculation puts Massachusetts’ current housing shortage at 108,000 units. 

June 2023 Closed Sales Report – Massachusetts Association of Realtors
Monthly report that provides statewide data on single-family and condominium sales.

Empirical Research: Linking land-use to housing affordability, economic development, racial & economic justice, and environmental sustainability

Housing Affordability
Local Zoning Laws and the Supply of Multifamily Housing in Greater Boston – Aradhya Sood and Nicholas Chiumenti
“This report finds that density restrictions play a key role in limiting the multifamily housing supply. Relaxing density restrictions, either alone or in combination with relaxing maximum-height restrictions and allowing multifamily housing, is the most fruitful policy reform for increasing supply and reducing multifamily rents.”

Supply Shock Versus Demand Shock: The Local Effects of New Housing in Low-Income Areas – Brian J. Asquith, Evan Mast, and Davin Reed
“New buildings decrease nearby rents by 5 to 7 percent relative to locations slightly farther away or developed later, and they increase in-migration from low-income areas.”

How Land-Use Regulation Undermines Affordable Housing – Sanford Ikeda and Emily Hamilton
“The study finds that these [land use] regulations reduce the supply of housing relative to what it would likely be in a free market and ultimately increase housing costs for consumers.”

The impact of minimum lot size regulations on house prices in Eastern Massachusetts – Jeffrey Zabel and Maurice Dalton
“Our results show that MLR [minimum lot size regulations] can have an economically and statistically significant impact on house prices of up to 20%. Further, we provide evidence that this impact increases over time.”

Economic Development
The Effects of Density Regulation on Metropolitan Housing Markets
“The results…suggest that roughly 20% of the variation in metropolitan housing growth can be explained through density regulations, and this result is remarkably robust to alternative measurements and assumptions about other land regulations. The results further show that anti-density regulation inflates prices in the face of demand shocks.”

Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation – Chang-Tai Hsieh & Enrico Moretti
“Using a spatial equilibrium model and data from 220 metropolitan areas we find that these constraints lowered aggregate US growth by 36 percent from 1964 to 2009.”

Exploring the Impacts of Zoning and Upzoning on Housing Development: A Quasi-experimental Analysis at the Parcel Level – Hongwei Dong
“The study shows that both upzoning and higher density zoning led to significantly greater development probabilities, higher development densities, and more housing supply. Upzoning could be an effective policy tool for increasing housing supply, particularly when it is applied to vacant and underutilized parcels.”

Racial & Economic Justice
The Impact of Land Use Regulation on Racial Segregation: Evidence from Massachusetts Zoning Borders – Mercatus Center
“…results imply a large role for local zoning regulation, particularly the permitting of dense multifamily structures, in explaining disparate racial location patterns. Blocks zoned for multifamily housing have black population shares 3.4 percentage points higher and Hispanic population shares 5.5 percentage points higher than single-family zoned blocks directly across a border from them.”

Density Zoning and Class Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan Areas – Social Science Quarterly
“Metropolitan areas with suburbs that restrict the density of residential construction are more segregated on the basis of income than those with more permissive density zoning regimes. This arrangement perpetuates and exacerbates racial and class inequality in the United States.”

Environmental Sustainability
The Impacts of Land Use and Pricing in Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled and Transport Emissions in Massachusetts – Metropolitan Area Planning Council
“The fundamental allocation of people, households, and jobs across the region sets the conditions in which household travel decisions are made…this can lead to a significant erosion of the impacts of other transportation or pricing policies. It is imperative that decisions on regional land use remain central to policy discussions on VMT [vehicle miles traveled] and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”

The carbon footprint of household energy use in the United States – Benjamin Goldstein, Dimitrios Gounaridis, and Joshua P. Newell
Meeting the 2050 Paris target also requires fundamental changes to the built form of communities…Zoning for denser settlement patterns better incentivizes smaller homes with reduced energy demands than single-family homes on large lots.

Identifying the trade-offs between climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban land use planning: An empirical study in a coastal city – Lilai Xu, Xiaoming Wang, Jiahui Liu, Yuanrong He, Jianxiong Tang, Minh Nguyen, Shenghui Cui
“…urban planning is of immense importance to combat climate change, not only for climate change mitigation, but also climate adaptation. Enacting or not enacting responses through land use planning could make a great difference in future GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and climate stresses.”

Visual Tools: Interactive maps of Massachusetts

Residensity – Massachusetts Housing Partnership
Contains residential density and land use patterns anywhere in Massachusetts

Zoning Atlas of Metro Boston – Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Comprehensive zoning information for Metropolitan Boston

United States Segregation Index – Othering and Belonging Institute
Measures levels of segregation across the United States