Inadequate housing supply in California’s most expensive metro areas drives a statewide housing crisis that challenges climate policy implementation, fair housing goals, and poverty reduction. Many scholars and policy makers agree that increasing dense infill transit-oriented residential development (TOD) in high-cost metro areas could address this housing crisis while also mitigating the impacts of climate change. But some advocates and scholars liken state policy that promotes TOD to twentieth century urban renewal—contending that state-incentivized TOD disproportionately displaces lower income communities. To explore this issue, and to examine the relative influence of both state law promoting TOD and local law regulating land use in generating inequitable outcomes like displacement, we collected land use and housing data from high-cost cities across California.

Our data show that cities approve the majority of their dense housing in neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment, though not enough dense housing, particularly affordable housing, to advance climate and fair housing policy. In some neighborhoods, building new TOD housing demands demolition of existing housing, including rent stabilized housing, and this physically displaces at least some existing tenants. We conclude that state-level environmental law and planning incentives to promote infill TOD, however, are unlikely to be drivers of these outcomes. Rather, exclusionary zoning at a neighborhood level is the probable culprit.

Moira O’Neill, Giulia Gualco-Nelson & Eric Biber, Sustainable Communities or the Next Urban Renewal?, 47 Ecology Law Quarterly, 1061–1122 (2020).