By Robert Laurie
You worked hard, you saved your money, you built up your credit, and you bought a home for your family. It’s not an apartment or a duplex, either. It’s a white-picket-fence American dream affair, complete with a garage, some trees, and a yard where spot can run around with the kids. It’s nice, you maintain it well, and you’re proud of your accomplishment.
….You horrific racist.
You think you can just “buy a house” and get away with it? What kind of monster operates like that? Why do you hate all the people your single-family neighborhood excludes via its “racially coded” zoning laws? Oh, please. You didn’t know you were racist? A likely story.
Meet Mark Vallianatos. He’s with something called “LAplus.” It’s a think tank that specializes in planning and housing. He has a new column in the LA Times, and he uses it to call out your grotesque, backwards, attitudes. L.A., he says, likes single-family zoning. …Because racism.
These days, about half of the city is zoned for single-family exclusively. It is illegal to have anything except a detached house (and sometimes an accessory unit) on close to 500,000 properties in Los Angeles. Limiting what types of homes are allowed in this way has not only contributed to soaring housing costs, it has also created profound racial and class segregation.
In the early 20th century, many private property deeds banned owners from selling to blacks, Asians, Latinos and Jews. However, when Southern cities tried to institutionalize that with explicitly racist zoning rules, the courts struck them down. Single-family-only zoning originated partly as a way around the court’s ruling, a means to segregate neighborhoods without explicitly banning any racial or religious group. Minorities, after all, could usually more easily afford apartment living than home ownership.
Los Angeles added single-family-only zones to its code in 1921, one of the first cities in the nation to divide houses from apartments. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld single-family zones in a 1926 case in Ohio. The majority opinion described apartment buildings as encroaching like “parasites … until, finally, the residential character of the neighborhood and its desirability as a place of detached residences are utterly destroyed.”
This type of race- and class-coded language has often been present when people want to restrict multifamily housing. It’s echoed in the fearful rhetoric about drugs, crime and transients we often hear as L.A. tries to fund and build more affordable housing and supportive housing for the homeless.
Single-family zoning is a worm in L.A.’s apple, one of our original planning sins.
In other words, the desire to live in a nice house – where you’re not in a tiny box surrounded by your neighbors, family members, or encroaching strangers – is really your desire to stay away from the people you hate. Don’t try to deny it.
Even if you live in a predominantly black neighborhood that’s zoned for single-family, you’re still probably some kind of racist. That’s because owning the home of your dreams – or even a home that’s a step on the way to your dreams – is the left’s most recent thing-that’s-totally-racist-but-really-isn’t.
After all, achieving the American Dream is nothing if not a symptom of the fact that there are some other people who haven’t managed to do as well as you have. Why do you hate them? Why, why, why?