This Election Day, Nov. 2, Rockland voters will have the opportunity to answer the following ballot referendum question at the polls: “Do you support amending Rockland’s zoning regulations to allow smaller, more efficient, more affordable dwellings?”

We serve on the Rockland City Council, and we sponsored the order placing this question on the ballot. This is an advisory referendum, which means the results will help the Council to gauge public opinion and craft policy around this issue, but it does not itself carry force of law.

We’d like to explain why we advocated for placing this question on the ballot, and why we hope the people of Rockland will vote yes.

Rockland has wrestled with its residential zoning for years, and the public debate has been contentious, sometimes heated. This debate fell into a predictable pattern: One or more City Councilors declaims the need to increase the housing supply in Rockland and proposes an ordinance amendment to relax some of the regulations that inhibit the construction of new dwelling units; a chorus of opponents voices opposition; and both sides debate the point in language nearly identical to that of the last go-round.

The primary proponents and opponents generally remain the same. The result might be, at best, some incremental progress that is real but inadequate to challenges of our current housing crisis.

But what does the public at large think? No one knows, since we’ve never asked. We’re asking now.

We believe our current residential zoning is exclusionary. That is, it has the effect of excluding working-class people from living in Rockland.

Exclusionary zoning has had a grim history in the U.S. and was initially a means of excluding people of color from white neighborhoods. Explicit race-based segregation in zoning was allowed until the Supreme Court decision Buchanan v. Warley in 1917, after which racial segregation was achieved via other means, including restrictions on minimum dwelling and lot sizes. Such restrictions inhibited the construction of new housing or rendered it unaffordable to people of modest means.

We don’t believe local opponents of zoning reform have racist intent, but we do believe it’s important to acknowledge this aspect of the history of zoning.

There exists much academic and policy research concerning exclusionary zoning, too much to summarize in this space, but here we quote from the article “Understanding Exclusionary Zoning and Its Impact on Concentrated Poverty” by Elliott Anne Rigsby, published by The Century Foundation in 2016:

“Exclusionary zoning is an oft-mentioned policy that keeps affordable housing out of neighborhoods through land use and building code requirements. It’s a legal practice that has been used for decades to keep lower-income people — disproportionately racial minorities — out of wealthy and middle-class neighborhoods across the country. It can have a damaging effect in that it prevents these low-income families from having access to the education and employment opportunities typically found in wealthier neighborhoods.”

The Biden White House took notice. A blog post (“Exclusionary Zoning: Its Effect on Racial Discrimination in the Housing Market”) by the Council of Economic Advisers from this past summer says “[e]xclusionary zoning laws enact barriers to entry that constrain housing supply, which, all else equal, translate into an equilibrium with more expensive housing and fewer homes being built. Consistent with theory, the empirical literature finds a relationship between restrictive land use regulations and higher housing prices.”

In summary: zoning that inhibits the housing construction drives prices up and working-class people out.

We are not advocating for an end to zoning. We are, however, advocating for an end to Rockland’s archaic, overly restrictive zoning. We know zoning regulations can be relaxed without hurting Rockland’s quality of life or sense of place, both of which we are acutely conscious of preserving.

In fact, as has often been observed, our current zoning regulations are wildly out of line with the historical development of Rockland and don’t reflect what makes or has made Rockland a desirable, fun or attractive place to live.

Do we want to be a place that’s proud of the people who labor in our factories, stores, warehouses, boats, trucks and restaurants? Or do we want to ask them to live elsewhere while we enjoy the economy that they create?

Changing our zoning is not itself a complete solution to our housing crisis, but it is one step we can take in the right direction. Join us in voting yes to help make our zoning work for everyone.