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Jenna Davis

Tue, Oct 31, 2023    1:15pm

Homeowners Perceptions Surrounding Upzoning: Evidence from Massachusetts

A lecture by Jenna Davis, Term Assistant Professor at Barnard College, organized as part of the Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS) at Columbia GSAPP.

“The “homevoter hypothesis” is one of the reigning explanations in the literature for the current housing shortage. The homevoter hypothesis argues that homeowners dominate local politics, as local policies could have a direct impact on homeowners’ chief, and most undiversified, asset: their home. As a result, homeowners tend to oppose new development out of fears that new development will negatively impact their property values. Upzonings, or zoning changes that allow for added development, have the potential to disrupt the homevoter hypothesis’ characterization of homeowners as largely anti-development, as upzonings unlock additional value for incumbent property owners while encouraging added development.

This research investigates this characterization of homeowners, exploring how a cohort of homeowners supportive of a jurisdiction-wide upzoning in Newton, Massachusetts believed that the upzoning would impact their property values and the extent to which economic factors shaped their pro-upzoning stance. After conducting in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 30 homeowners in Newton, the research finds that participants’ attitudes towards upzoning were largely inconsistent with the premise that homeowners primarily form opinions about local policies on the basis of whether they will maximize their economic self-interest. Although most homeowners believed that the upzoning would lead to a boost in their property values, citing the added redevelopment potential of their parcels, most homeowners did not support the upzoning chiefly due to the financial benefits that would redound to them, nor expressed interest in taking advantage of the upzoning. These results indicate that even if taking advantage of an upzoning is in homeowners’ rational economic self-interest, this does not mean that homeowners will necessarily act on such a policy. These findings also provide a key insight for planners and policymakers that wish to generate greater buy-in for upzonings among homeowners in affluent communities: that marketing upzonings on the basis of the potential financial benefits that could accrue to incumbent homeowners may not strike a chord among this constituency.”

Jenna Davis is an urban planner whose research interests include housing and zoning policy. Her research investigates how zoning regulations shape urban development and impact housing inequalities in the United States. She also investigates the political economy of zoning reform. In her scholarly work, she uses mixed methods approaches. Her work previously has been published in Journal of Urban Affairs, Journal of the American Planning Association, and Land Use Policy. Davis previously served as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, where she conducted research on the educational outcomes of homeless students in the New York City public school system. Jenna also worked at the Citizens Budget Commission, performing research on property tax reform in New York City, and worked in marketing and operations at a real estate technology startup.

She is currently completing her dissertation in urban planning at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and is a Term Associate in the Urban Studies program at Barnard College. At Barnard, Davis teaches classes on the built environment, housing policy, and research methods. She holds a MRP in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BA in urban studies from Barnard College.

Organized by the Urban Planning Program at Columbia GSAPP.