It’s Time to Take a Closer Look at Zoning Laws


May 30, 2023 3:11PM

In 2022, Beacon conducted listening tours across the state and found raising homeownership and housing costs were the number one issue facing Tennesseans. This was not only the case in cities like Nashville, but participants from every Grand Division listed skyrocketing home ownership and renting costs as a challenge. Though potential solutions are often given for rising housing costs such as subsidizing housing units or forcing developers to provide affordable housing units, these solutions have proven to increase government control and limit supply. There is one solution however that has many on the left and right agreeing it needs to be implemented.

There are few policy issues that have support from seemingly every inch of the political spectrum, but zoning reform has proven to be the issue that everyone can—and should—support. From left-leaning California organizations to conservative and libertarian think tanks and even the White House recognize that limiting zoning regulations is a way to combat rising housing prices.

Local zoning regulations have limited the supply of housing and artificially raised the price of homes. With large portions of cities prohibiting multi-family homes and mother-in-law suites, more affordable housing options are often forced further away from cities, contributing to urban sprawl. Restrictive zoning regulations such as minimum lot sizes and single-type construction raise the value of homes through the sheer fact that more land needs to be purchased. For example, while Tennessee’s average home size is 2,157 sq. ft., zoning regulations can require lots to be much larger. In Nashville, minimum lot sizes for single-family homes range from 3,750 sq ft to 80,000. Large minimum lot sizes contribute to limiting housing supply and increasing costs for both buyers and renters.

In both red and blue states, zoning reform legislation has been moving in state and local governments. In Montana, the state legislature recently passed multiple bills that increase the housing supply by allowing for more housing types to be built. In Vermont, state lawmakers recently passed a bill easing parking requirements and allowing for duplexes to be built anywhere single-family homes can. One Vermont state representative said these reforms give residents more pathways to home ownership. She also stated that the state getting involved with zoning reforms “isn’t about local control vs state control, it’s about local control vs individual agency, to do something with your property.”

There already are areas where zoning is nonexistent, from small towns like Caroline, New York to the major metro of Houston, Texas, and they show the need for restrictive and often arbitrary zoning regulations on what an individual can do with their property is not the solution to making cities more attractive or liveable. Through thoughtful zoning reforms that increase the ability for more affordable home ownership and the supply of homes, Tennessee can let the individual win over restrictive local controls on private property.