Study: Single-family zoning stifles Winters housing development options

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By Caleb Hampton
McNaughton Media

The Sacramento region, and Winters especially, have limited options for increasing housing supply due to a vast majority of residential land zoned exclusively for single-family homes, according to a new report published last week by the UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute

The greater Sacramento area examined in the report includes six counties featuring 22 municipalities, which are collectively home to nearly 2.5 million people.

Across the region, about 77 percent of residential land was exclusively reserved for single-family housing, the researchers found. In Winters, that figure was 84 percent. In Yolo County, it was 73 percent. “Zoning ordinances throughout the Sacramento region are exceptionally hostile to density,” the report said.

The Othering and Belonging Institute previously conducted similar research in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, where they found similar zoning practices. A handful of studies conducted in other parts of the country, include Minnesota and Connecticut, also found the percentage of residential land zoned for single-family use to be between 70 percent and 80 percent.

“As various regional analyses continue to be produced, it appears that the percentage of single-family-only zoned areas of residential land continues to fall within a remarkably consistent range,” the UC Berkeley report said.

Single-family zoning ordinances are rooted in racial segregation and continue to be highly correlated with it. In the Sacramento region, as in other places, cities with a high percentage of residential land zoned for single-family housing had more white residents, while cities with more multi-family and mixed-use zoning had a greater share of Latino residents, the study found. “Single-family-only zoning has a racially exclusionary appearance,” the report concluded.

Single-family zoning was also correlated with higher income and education levels, lower rates of environmental contaminants, and better opportunities for economic mobility. According to the report, children born into families living in communities with 95 percent single-family-only zoning made roughly $10,000 more per year as adults than children born into families living in communities with less than 60 percent single-family-only zoning.

Jurisdictions with higher percentages of single-family zoning also had higher home values. “This relationship suggests that restrictive zoning plays a role in making housing more expensive,” the report said.

“Increasingly, the Sacramento region faces pressure from a growing population as rising housing costs in the nearby Bay Area and the city of Sacramento itself force residents to more affordable suburbs,” the report said. However, with so much of the region’s residential land zoned for single-family-only housing, there are limited options for increasing housing.

“As with the San Francisco Bay Area and the greater Los Angeles regions, Sacramento’s residential areas are dominated by single-family-only zoning, stifling the development of denser housing options, perpetuating racial and economic segregation, and shaping communities and the distribution of opportunity for millions of Californians,” the report said.

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