When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the
field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you
shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God. Leviticus 23:22
Economic Exploitation Index
Zoning and planning regulations directly impact the poor in many negative ways and this is commonly recognized among urban experts as a "curse on the city". Utne Reader notes that zoning violates "human ecological principles" and is blind to the visceral need of the poor for economic opportunities. Zoning boards and planners remain deaf to the importance of mixed use, the cry of the poor for opportunity, technological innovation, the importance of home employment and the need to decrease the mobility required in modern society for the basic needs of working and shopping (Smith 72). Many urban areas are crippled by zoning, taxes, and business regulation (Sherman 756).
By restricting the use of property, areas are created in which only one basic activity is allowed (business, industrial, or residential). This artificially stimulates the needs of workers and families for transportation for work, shopping, and living. But only about half of families with incomes below $10,000 own cars (Statistical Abstract 741); the rest are dependent upon public transportation. Many laws prevent the market from providing transportation services at competitive prices and limit entry into such marketplaces. The cost of transportation has risen 600% since the 1930s, and zoning has contributed to this problem by separating people and mandating "single use" neighborhoods. Local governments yielded to corporate lobbying in the 1950s and 1960s and abandoned already-in-place public transportation systems, as part of a deliberate political policy to increase the need of the population for cars (Segal 62).
Zoning regulations are used to harass programs for and service providers to the poor. In Chicago, a coalition of forty churches is suing the city claiming that city zoning enforcement is keeping them from opening and maintaining houses of worship. Some local government entities view the phenomena of "store front churches" as a direct attack on their tax revenues (e.g. churches are tax exempt, the businesses which once occupied the store fronts are not) (Park 23, Tapia 49). In Michigan Oaks (a suburb of Grand Rapids), a zoning board has refused to approve use of a structure as a homeless shelter for women and children by the Dominican Sisters (Frye 6). Here in Oklahoma City, the Gatewood Neighborhood Association is using zoning and business regulation laws to harass the Jesus House food distribution center on NW 16th and Indiana. In Sacramento, a religious charity that feeds the poor has been sued by the city of Sacramento, which is asking the court to force the group to stop feeding people on Sunday, close a homeless teen center and stop teaching homeless children who aren't in school (Westlund 7).
Often, zoning will not allow homeowners to build "mother in law" apartments (a/k/a "granny flats") in attics or basements or in backyards. This artificially decreases the amount of rental housing that is available, thus coercively supporting higher rents than a more free market might otherwise provide. Such apartments are a grassroots, non-bureaucratic, un-subsidized, easily implemented approach to affordable housing (Jacobson 32, Smith 73).
Zoning can be a problem for persons who desire to start a business in their home or apartment, due to restrictive uses allowed in residential areas. It has been used to chase away or close small existing neighborhood based businesses to make room for large corporations with suburban employees (Utne Smith 70).
One of the most practical alternatives for housing for the poor -- mobile homes and manufactured
housing -- is almost universally disapproved of by zoning boards, which tend to restrict mobile
homes from most neighborhoods. This drives up the cost of owning or renting a mobile home
(the artificially-restricted number of places where such a home can be parked demand a price
above the free market level). (Mobile homes retail for around $20,000 each, and the average
income of those who buy them is $18,000.) These actions by zoning boards coercively support
higher rents for existing housing (by denying a low-cost market alternative.) This is usually done
with many sneering comments about "trailer trash" (Tucker 65).