Apartment Therapy, July 2020
The American Dream takes on as many shapes and forms as there are Americans to imagine it. But one particular version of that vision has endured through the decades: that of a tidy Colonial on a grassy lot with a picket fence out front.
There’s nothing wrong with that dream. It’s a lovely one! There’s a reason children draw cute houses with smoking chimneys and lollipop trees in the yard. A majority of Americans live in single family homes, even more wish they did, and detached houses now make up more than a third of rental housing.
But the problem is that in far too many communities, that’s the only version of the American Dream allowed.
In many American suburbs, nearly every acre of residential land is zoned exclusively for single-family homes. Even in major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, it’s straight-up illegal to build anything but a single-family house on most residential lots without going through a difficult and headache-inducing zoning variance appeal process. In other suburbs, multi-family housing is technically permitted in a few spots—but only in theory.
They’re discouraged in practice by a “paper wall” of regulations, like unrealistic minimum lot sizes.