How Do District-Based Elections Impact Housing in California?

More than 100 California cities have switched to district-based elections in recent years. How this trend has affected housing availability and affordability is a question many never would have thought to ask, but a new analysis shows the impact is significant.

The study was conducted by Baruch College Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Hankinson and Princeton University Department of Political Science PhD Candidate Asya Magazinnik. The two examined new housing permitting and affordability across all 482 California cities, comparing housing outcomes to their respective city council structures. The researchers then narrowed their focus to six sample cities, reviewing every city and planning commission meeting they held from 2011 to 2018.

The research revealed two key outcomes: 1) abandonment of at-large voting systems in favor of district-based elections results in less housing being permitted in a city overall, however, 2) housing that is permitted tends to be more equitably distributed and affordable.

The researchers said district elections resulted in a 44% decrease in new multifamily housing, largely because of more locally empowered city councils. Because of greater representation of minority voters, housing that was permitted was less likely to be concentrated in minority neighborhoods and was more affordable for low-income residents.

To counter the decrease in supply that results from district-based systems, “district elections may be best paired with top-down pressure from a higher level of government, such as the State of California,” Hankinson and Magazinnik write.

Read their full analysis here.


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