Zoning's Connection with Racial Distribution: A Case Study on the Washington, D.C. MSA

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Zoning, as a public land-use tool, has several important goals. As zoning accomplishes these goals, however, zoning has had the unintended outcome of guiding high numbers of minorities into certain areas in which multi-family housing is permitted. This study attempts to understand the connection that zoning has with racial and ethnic distribution within and across jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. MSA.

By using GIS to spatially connect zoning districts to Census data, I analyzed correlations between minority populations and zoning district regulations. For all locations studied, I found that proportions of minority population generally increase as zoning districts permit higher-intensity residential uses. Minority populations often increased as the density permitted by zoning districts increased, although there were many exceptions to this trend, most notably in the central city where minority populations did not directly correlate with zoning density. In all cases, however, low-density, single-family zoning districts had higher white populations than other, higher-density zoning districts. Zoning was shown to have the greatest correlation with minority populations in jurisdictions undergoing significant population growth, particularly minority population growth.

The study shows that racially-segregated neighborhoods exist across a variety of zoning types, including low-density, single-family districts, but that segregation is more abundant within zoning districts that permit higher-intensity uses and higher-densities. White isolation was found to be greatest in low-density, single-family zoning districts.

Although there is a clear connection between zoning regulations and minority population settlement, zoning density does not perfectly correlate with minority population and racially-segregated areas. Many higher-density zoning districts throughout the study area have high white populations and high levels of white clustering. Conversely, high minority populations and minority clustering occur to significant extents in parts of single-family zoning districts, particularly in Washington and Prince George's County.



zoning, minority housing, Census GIS, affordable housing, racial distribution