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Americans support zoning changes to allow more housing, survey finds

Publish Date: December 01, 2023

Written by Taylor Anderson

- Originally published at Inman News - Taylor Anderson

From backyard cottages to duplexes and more mixed-use buildings, a survey of over 5,000 people found them broadly supportive of widespread zoning changes

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Americans are broadly supportive of an array of zoning changes that have been shown to allow for more affordable housing, according to a new study from Pew Charitable Trusts.

In a survey that included responses from more than 5,000 people, Pew found that people are on board with policy changes in cities and suburbs that would lead to more apartments being built. They also want municipalities to act faster in making permit decisions, the study found.

The kinds of changes supported by the public, if implemented, present opportunities for investors who would generally have more opportunities to build housing.

“Support for most of the housing policies transcended the usual fault lines of political party, region, race, income, and gender,” the Pew researchers wrote. “The eight most popular proposals received clear majority support from Republicans, Democrats, and independents. In addition, 9 of the 10 tested measures received majority support from both renters and homeowners.”

Seventy-three percent of adults told Pew they supported rules that allow single-family homeowners to create accessory dwelling units, or rentable apartments, within their homes. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they “strongly” supported such a change, and just 8 percent said they strongly opposed it.

Seventy-two percent said they supported rules that allow property owners to add detached ADUs, or small homes that are either standalone structures or those that are built above or within a garage. Twenty-nine percent said they strongly supported the idea, and 9 percent said they strongly opposed it.

Respondents also like the idea of cities allowing small multifamily housing on any residential lot, a type of zoning change that can increase density and affordability. The concept is known as “missing middle housing” both because the scale of buildings blend in with single-family neighborhoods and because cities have made them illegal through zoning changes over time.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they either strongly or somewhat supported allowing missing middle housing on more lots, and 40 percent were either strongly or somewhat opposed.

Building multifamily housing closer to transit like train stations, bus stops or near major job centers — a type of construction known as transit-oriented development or TOD — was widely supported. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they were in favor of TODs. 

Beginning in the early 20th century, cities began to separate different uses from each other, primarily as a way to keep industrial pollution away from residential areas. That often led to homes being separated from shops and restaurants and often inhibited walkable neighborhoods.

People seem to like mixed-use housing, with 75 percent of respondents saying they supported cities allowing more apartments built in areas that also allow offices, stores and restaurants.

Pew found that Americans are much more divided when it comes to moving houses closer together by requiring less land per home.

Fifty percent of respondents to the survey said they opposed such a change, with 30 percent saying they strongly opposed it.

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