Historically, federal and state governments have been primarily responsible for increasing and maintaining the supply of affordable housing. But as budgets decrease, the burden has fallen more and more to local governments. Inclusionary zoning policies, which seek to reverse the negative, exclusionary effects of conventional zoning, are one tool local governments can use to increase affordable housing stock.
Courtnee Melton-Fant, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis School of Public Health, recently published research in Housing Policy Debate that explores the growing trend of preemption as it relates to these inclusionary zoning policies.
Dr. Melton-Fant’s research used policy surveillance data produced by the Center for Public Health Law Research with the National League of Cities to examine the relationship between state preemption of inclusionary zoning policies and health outcomes among different demographic groups — particularly among people of color.
We asked Dr. Melton-Fant a few questions about her work.
What did you find in your research?
CMF: Overall, adults living in states that preempt inclusionary zoning were more likely to have poor self-rated health status compared to adults in other states. Black adults in preemption states were more likely to report delaying medical care due to cost and were the only racial group to experience this outcome.
Why is it important to study preemption in relation to housing, and particularly inclusionary zoning laws?
CMF: Americans are increasingly burdened by their housing costs, particularly renters and people of color. Local governments and leaders are concerned about housing affordability, but state governments restrict local governments from using all [the] policy tools available. Inclusionary zoning was especially interesting to me because I live in a state that preempts this policy. Local governments in my state develop their housing strategies without a tool in their toolkit that many other cities have been able to use. Safe, affordable housing is a key determinant of health. I thought that any policy that affected the supply of, and access to affordable housing may impact health. Studying preemption in relation to housing is necessary to understand the effects of preemption on people, inform advocacy efforts and develop solutions.
How did you use the preemption legal data in your work, and why did you decide to use it?
CMF: The preemption data set provided the primary independent variable in my analysis. I used the data to determine which states had inclusionary zoning preemption laws on the books. I used this data because I know the Policy Surveillance Program uses systematic, rigorous methods to turn laws into quality data.
What was the most surprising thing you uncovered as you did your analysis?
CMF: I was surprised that I did not find significant results among Latinx adults.
How can this research help inform policymaking decisions going forward?
CMF: Understanding the widespread effects of policies is important. Housing policy is health policy. This research also highlighted the importance of exploring the effects of policies on different groups of people.
Where should research in this area (including yours!) go from here?
CMF: Inclusionary zoning is only one piece of a comprehensive housing strategy. Research should explore how inclusionary zoning interacts with other housing policies and the long-term effects of these policies. I am interested in exploring how larger land use regulation and exclusionary zoning policies effect racial health and housing inequities and the policy solutions that can be used to eliminate them.