Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 21, 2021

Exclude me

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

It’s not often that Alameda is directly addressed by the White House but it was sure nice of them to do it on a subject that we’re actively talking about given our focus on the Housing Element and meeting our RHNA numbers. While the Planning Board tip toed around definitely saying that A/26 is “in direct conflict” with state law and “is preempted and unenforceable” the White House just blew the whole game off of the “A/26 isn’t exclusionary” or “A/26 is not racist.”

A reminder of what A/26 is:

Article XXVI. Multiple Dwelling Units.
“Sec. 26-1. There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.
“Sec. 26-2. Exception being the Alameda Housing Authority replacement of existing low cost housing and the proposed Senior Citizens low cost housing complex, pursuant to Article XXV Charter of the City of Alameda.”
Section 26-3: “The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.”

How the Council of Economic Advisors defines exclusionary housing:

Exclusionary zoning laws place restrictions on the types of homes that can be built in a particular neighborhood. Common examples include minimum lot size requirements, minimum square footage requirements, prohibitions on multi-family homes, and limits on the height of buildings. [emphasis added]

More highlights:

In the subsequent decades, some zoning laws have been used to discriminate against people of color and to maintain property prices in suburban and, more recently, urban neighborhoods.

After the United States Supreme Court banned the use of explicit race-based zoning in Buchanan v. Warley (1917), city planners remained capable of segregating via indirect methods. 


Exclusionary zoning laws enact barriers to entry that constrain housing supply, which, all else equal, translate into an equilibrium with more expensive housing and fewer homes being built. Consistent with theory, the empirical literature finds a relationship between restrictive land use regulations and higher housing prices.

Because exclusionary zoning rules drive up housing prices, poorer families are kept out of wealthier, high-opportunity neighborhoods. This, in turn, leads to worse outcomes for children, including lower standardized test scores, and greater social inequalities over time.

Restrictions in housing supply also limit labor mobility, because workers cannot afford to move to higher productivity cities that have high housing prices. This leads workers to remain in lower productivity places. One study finds that this misallocation of labor has led to a significant decrease in the U.S. economic growth rate since the 1960s; another study finds that this misallocation could cost up to 2 percent of GDP.

Finally, exclusionary zoning contributes to the racial wealth gap. If Black families are excluded from higher priced neighborhoods or if neighborhoods where Black families live are zoned into being less valuable, the homes purchased by Black families will not be worth as much over time as those of white families. In the long run, this diminishes wealth not only for the generation purchasing the home, but for descendants who receive a lesser inheritance. Indeed, housing likely explains more than 30 percent of the Black-white racial wealth gap.

If your gut is to sputter and attempt to “well actually…” and talk about how A/26 is not exclusionary you should stop and reflect on what it is about you that makes you itch to cape for a law that, on its face, plainly falls into the definition of exclusionary zoning designed to keep poor people and, mostly, Black families out of the guaranteed way of building wealth in the US.


  1. Cost of land is high on our island and highest for single family homes. Close to half of Alameda homes are rented. Building multi family units requires multiple lots. The people displaced will be current renters. This is what happened in Oakland’s Rockridge and East Oakland Districts. New housing is not subject to rent control under California law. As a result, what you are advocating for will not get the results you seek and will hurt current renters.

    Comment by Observer — June 21, 2021 @ 8:36 am

    • You can build a multifamily unit on a lot the sized for a single family unit. Historic Alameda has tons of examples of just this.

      Comment by Lauren Do — June 21, 2021 @ 8:52 am

      • It seems as though what the White House is trying to argue is that, in the past, local and federal government, and realtors, through redlining and race based practice like racial steering and covenants, created areas zoned as single family to foster and protect white advantage and privilege, in the form of good schools, abundant municipal services, and intergenerational wealth accumulation and transfer. That’s a history that cannot be denied. But, to credit of state and federal officials since the 60s, racial steering is against the law. As is redlining. As is a host of racist practices like racial covenants. So, today, it cannot be argued that racism is intertwined with zoning, and is as pernicious now like it was pre 1975 (when HMDA and CRA) were adopted. Look at it this way: if an African American family seeks to buy a home in the Fernside or Gold Coast, Jim Crow is not standing in their way.

        The reason BIPOC experience disproprtionate difficulty in accessing R-1 is economic, which is directly tied to failure of Republicans and Democrats at federal and state levels to adequately fund educational, job training, and health care programs that help move families up the ladder of social mobility. Looked at this way, the answer to BIPOC accessing R-1 neighborhoods at rates far higher than now suggests deeper and sustained commitments by Sacramento and DC pols, not simply eliminating R-1 zoning. As the cause of lack of access is economic, getting rid of R-1 zoning does nothing, since those benefitting from that will be those in an economic position to do so. You can still have R-1 areas, and you could tax those in there at levela to adequayely fund programs to move people up ladder of mobility. But, both Democrats and Republican don’t. The problem is not zoning — it’s who weve been electing.

        Let’s move beyond feel good politics that doesn’t even begin to superficially address systemic inequalities in place. Let’s not waste our and our nation’s time on this “get rid of zoning” nonsense.

        Comment by anonymous — June 21, 2021 @ 12:42 pm

        • Nah, that’s literally not what they are saying. It’s pretty clear what they have said and how they define exclusionary housing:

          Exclusionary zoning laws place restrictions on the types of homes that can be built in a particular neighborhood. Common examples include minimum lot size requirements, minimum square footage requirements, prohibitions on multi-family homes, and limits on the height of buildings. [emphasis added]

          Comment by Lauren Do — June 21, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

  2. If you’re a San Francisco Chronicle subscriber (I believe you can also get access through the library website), this article was a really illuminating look at the problems with building multi-family housing in the city:

    Comment by trow125 — June 21, 2021 @ 12:42 pm

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