Get in the zone — but not the red zone

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.55.12 AM.pngPlanning and zoning. It feels like it happens so quickly, but in reality, zoning takes months of planning. Zoning is practiced in towns to turn available (or what is said to be under-utilized) land into areas devoted to residential or commercial buildings.

Zoning is a big deal for towns, but who does zoning benefit?

Zoning has had quite a history in, you guessed it, segregating housing by race and class.

Many cities across the country have participated in this sort of segregation for decades. San Francisco, for instance, has segregated neighborhoods based on federal policy that allowed for redlining — or marking certain neighborhoods as high-resource (and thus capable of repaying bank loans — and others as low-. People who want to buy in redlined neighborhoods a slim chance of getting approved for a loan from the bank.

That’s not just in San Francisco. Advocates in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, started pushing for an affordable housing development in 1975. The development was divided into two segments because citizens brought the town to court.

The state Supreme Court Case, Mount Laurel I, tried to establish the housing complex. The town created Mount Laurel, but it was not what activist Ethel Lawrence and her group fought for. The complex offered 2-3 bedroom units, which was a tight financial squeeze for families in need of low-income housing. The case was brought back in 1983 as Mount Laurel II. The case asked for a “realistic opportunity” and was the first case that constitutionally prohibited economic discrimination.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.54.55 AM.pngThese cases are considered civil rights cases because the town told the activists to leave town if they could not afford their housing. In the project, only 20 percent of the development was promised to be low-income housing.

I think housing is a civil right and should be provided to everyone. I also believe that you pay for what you get. I think that houses and opportunities of all sizes should be offered in a community. To improve the loan distribution process, the banks should not use zoning maps as their guide. If I were to seek customers for a loan, I would want to get to know the applicant through an interview and their financial history — even if their credit score is not something to, well, write home about. As the economy recovers from the housing crisis after nearly 10 years, we can only hope that segregating neighborhoods can end.

By Leah Myers


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