End Exclusionary Zoning

Over half of Louisville’s land is reserved for large single family dwellings. Only 6 percent is zoned for multi-family use.

May 15, 2023

Affordable Housing and Municipal Zoning

It is illegal to build affordable housing in most of Louisville. While there are a lot of contributing factors to the shortage of affordable housing in the U.S., one major reason it exists is because of policies we have intentionally put in place to reduce the supply of housing out of fear of a possible decline in property values and having to share ‘our neighborhoods’ with people of different classes and races. It is illegal to redline a map and explicitly exclude people from buying in certain neighborhoods on the basis of race, but it is a legal and widespread practice to use zoning ordinances to restrict the supply of affordable housing. In practice, zoning restrictions ensure high levels of racial and economic segregation.

What is Multi-Family Housing and why is it more affordable?

Multi-family housing includes a lot more than just large apartment complexes. There’s a wide range of types of housing that can include multiple families. A review of Louisville’s current housing situation refers to this as the ‘missing middle housing’. Louisville currently has limited areas zoned for large apartment complexes and huge swathes of land dedicate exclusively to single family housing.

An Illustration of the types of Housing made illegal by Louisville’s current zoning

Single family housing starts out less affordable because it requires more land per person, but additional zoning restrictions around minimum lot sizes and required parking spaces also drive up the cost. If you want to learn a little more about zoning and housing prices in general, this is a good 10 minute video explaining the key ways restricted zoning makes housing less affordable.

Zoning in Louisville

Louisville’s zoning data is available online and is regularly updated. I used the most recent data available for download (it’s a little unclear if it’s from 2020 or 2022 in the documentation, but it’s recent enough for this analysis) and divided the official zoning designations into five broad categories:

  • Multi-Family residential: affordable housing is legal in these areas
  • Single Family Residential: restricting housing supply by mandating single family homes
  • Single Family Large Lot: highly restrictive zoning that requires a 9,000 sq. ft. lot size for single family dwellings.
  • Commercial/Industrial: includes enterprise zones and anything else clearly commercial
  • Other: several very small categories that are most likely related to commercial use, although this does include the ~1 percent of land that is zoned for both commercial and residential uses

An overview of zoning types is provided by Louisville Government, and there is also an official map with additional details.

Louisville is not zoned for affordable housing

  • The overwhelming majority (73%) of Louisville’s land is reserved for single family dwellings.
  • Only 6% of Louisville’s land allows multi-family structures to be built, even if we restrict the analysis to residential land it’s only 7% of residential land that allows multi-family dwellings. In other words, 93 percent of residential land in Louisville is reserved for more expensive single family units
  • The most common single-family zoning code (R4 zoning) requires a 9,000 sq ft lot size, a requirement first adopted by the city in 1963. This type of zoning makes up a over half of Louisville’s land and makes even single family homes more expensive than they would be if they could be built on smaller lots.

Zoning Map

We can also look at where multi-family dwellings are allowed. The small green patches represent multi-family housing. Typing an address into the search bar will place a marker on the map locating that address, making it easy to find the zoning for your residence.

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