How Snob Zoning, NIMBYISM and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don’t See
Richard D. Kahlenberg
Although the entrenched racial discrimination in the housing market that Richard Rothstein chronicled in The Color of Law has been declining over the past several decades, one of America’s most enduring systems of housing inequity – economic segregation—largely goes unremarked. From coast to coast, cities—many of them liberal bastions—have imposed laws and regulations that have locked inequality into the urban landscape.
In Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYISM and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don’t See, Richard Kahlenberg calls for us to pay attention to the myriad ways in which government has promoted economic segregation—most of it affecting people of color in urban settings. By implementing laws that ban the construction of less expensive and denser apartment buildings and other multifamily units like duplexes and triplexes, and by setting aside land that is restricted to single family dwellings, housing choice has been socially engineered to the benefit of the affluent.
Economic segregation matters. Where you live affects so much—your access to transportation, employment opportunities, decent health care, and good schools. Yet NIMBYism has meant that even the most moderate plans for building more housing have faced opposition. In response, The Walls We Don’t See proposes a new “economic fair housing act” to prohibit or discourage laws and practices that bar access to entire neighborhoods.
Rick also chronicles how, in cities like Minneapolis, things are beginning to shift. Writing in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo has ventured to hope that support for different housing practices might be growing. Partly in response to the housing crisis revealed by the pandemic, he suggested that “a pragmatic, humane and rational view toward housing, homelessness, inequality and other pressing urban problems may be dawning.”
In Excluded, Rick Kahlenberg brings economic segregation to light and in so doing offers a view of how things can and must change.
Forthcoming from Public Affairs
Praise for Excluded
A valuable guide to fixing one of America’s most enduring social ills.―Publishers Weekly
A thoughtful, worthy argument for fair-housing reforms that are truly fair. ―Kirkus
Kahlenberg uses a nuanced approach as he deftly scrutinizes the often-controversial topic of housing development and the colluding forces that exclude people from homeownership. His evenhanded perspective finds fault on both sides of the political spectrum, making this a very worthy book of contemporary and historical relevance.―Booklist
In this brilliant book, Richard Kahlenberg deftly integrates quantitative and qualitative evidence to illuminate the basic theme of his career and one of the central controversies in contemporary America—how to reconcile the tension between class and race. More specifically, he shows how ‘snob zoning’ leads to segregation by both race and class and thus blocks opportunity for all Americans. Nevertheless, it is ultimately an optimistic book, showing necessary reforms are both technically feasible and politically possible. He eloquently evokes the final dream of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, uniting working-class whites and people of color in a single coalition for reform.—Robert D. Putnam, research professor, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of Bowling Alone and The Upswing
Kahlenberg, in his profound new book Excluded, exposes the hidden class injuries of exclusionary zoning. Once you see the terrible toll of this socially permissible form of discrimination, you won’t be able to unsee it. It will change the way you think about your society and about the proper goals of a progressive politics. —Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Kahlenberg’s in-depth exploration into the history of America’s exclusionary housing policies is required reading for anyone interested in understanding the housing affordability crisis in the United States and its ripple effects throughout society. Our communities and citizens alike would be better off if every policymaker took the time to read through this exquisite undertaking, where Mr. Kahlenberg uses real-life examples and expert analysis to provide essential insight into one of the most important, complex challenges facing our nation. —Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II
I loved reading Excluded. It addresses the great unfinished business of the civil rights movement: inequality in housing, which perpetuates inequality in schooling. Kahlenberg’s practical proposals would give civil-rights lawyers the tools they need to fight persistent and deeply harmful practices that segregate Americans by race and class. —John Brittain, former chief counsel, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
Richard Kahlenberg’s assessment of the causes, implications, and cures for class-based residential segregation is must-reading for all those interested in urban policy and politics. His analysis is highly accessible and engaging, while rigorous and well-grounded in the latest research. Most importantly, he offers an unusually thorough and insightful prescription for breaking down the barriers posed by exclusionary zoning, not just to people of color, but to all lower income families. – Vicki Been, NYU School of Law