A new report from The Century Foundation examines how zoning laws affect housing and schooling opportunities in the Buffalo region. The report first examines how two Buffalo neighborhoods—Martin Luther King Park and East Aurora—differ in their demographic makeups, home prices, and in the educational opportunities that their public-school systems provide. Next, the report details how these neighborhoods became so different, including the history of redlining in the region. Then, the report explores how the Elmwood-Bidwell community can be seen as an example of how zoning policies can play a part in creating greater racial and economic integration that avoids the extremes of Martin Luther King Park or East Aurora, while also noting its limitation when it comes to schooling.
The respective zoning regimes in the two communities are associated with very different racial and economic demographics and starkly different performance levels in their respective public schools. The authors use evidence to explain how these disparities can be traced back to zoning. Just like elsewhere, the rising segregation in Buffalo was facilitated and encouraged by many federal and local government policies, including redlining and the placement of highways. In East Aurora, most of the land is set aside for single-family residential living; 100% of the units built in East Aurora between 2014 and 2021 were for single-family zoning, while only 2% of new units were for single-family homes in Martin Luther King Park.
The authors conclude by discussing the Elmwood-Bidwell neighborhood’s success with residential integration. Unlike East Aurora, Elmwood–Bidwell is much more open to multifamily housing. The availability of multifamily housing has not led to the level of concentrated poverty found in communities like Martin Luther King Park, contrary to the fears of many NIMBYs.