THE SOCIAL ISSUES IN PLANNING FOR HOUSING

Housing is probably the area in which physical planning decisions have their greatest social effects. Land-use controls and decisions about capital facilities like water and sewer lines affect how much housing and what type of housing will be built. That decision affects rents and house prices, and thus who will live in the community. Through the mechanism of cost, one pattern of housing may favor racial integration whereas another will favor racial segregation. Because where children live determines where they go to school, housing policy can turn out to be educational policy as well. Where one lives can determine one's access to recreation, to social services, and, perhaps most importantly, to employment. Policies and economic forces that separate the housing that low-income workers can afford from the jobs for which they are qualified can produce unemployment. Prolonged unemployment can lead to family breakup, with links to welfare dependency, alcoholism, crime, and other social pathologies. It has been persuasively argued that the formation of the "urban underclass" is, in part, due to prolonged, large-scale unemployment in urban areas.2 Thus decisions about housing policy affect what many regard as one of America's most pressing social problems.

Even if we forget matters of race, class, and poverty entirely, decisions about housing can have powerful effects on how people live. Suppose the land-use controls in a suburban town permit the building of only singlefamily houses on half-acre or larger lots. By limiting what can be built to a single, expensive type of structure, the town has made some very personal decisions for its residents. Many of the children who are raised in the town will not be able to afford to live there as young adults. When a couple is divorced, the partner who does not get the house may have to leave town because there is no housing that he or she can afford. A couple with a grownup intellectually disabled child who cannot live alone but could function well in a group home may be very affected by whether or not the town permits large, old, single-family houses to be converted into group homes. Many communities have experienced bitter fights over whether or not to permit group homes.

A couple who would like an elderly parent to live with them will be concerned about whether or not the town's zoning law permits accessory— or so-called mother-in-law—apartments to be attached to or constructed adjacent to single-family houses. There are vastly more single-parent families in the United States today than there were a few decades ago. Among two-parent households, there is now a much higher percentage in which both parents work outside the home. Land-use controls that permitted homes, workplaces, and childcare facilities to be close together would simplify the lives of many families. In some communities expanding the variety of housing types to accommodate the increasing number of smaller households would be useful.

 
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