How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don't See


By Richard D. Kahlenberg

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An indictment of America's housing policy that reveals the social engineering underlying our segregation by economic class, the social and political fallout that result, and what we can do about it

The last, acceptable form of prejudice in America is based on class and executed through state-sponsored economic discrimination, which is hard to see because it is much more subtle than raw racism.

While the American meritocracy officially denounces prejudice based on race and gender, it has spawned a new form of bias against those with less education and income.  Millions of working-class Americans have their opportunity blocked by exclusionary snob zoning.  These government policies make housing unaffordable, frustrate the goals of the civil rights movement, and lock in inequality in our urban and suburban landscapes.

Through moving accounts of families excluded from economic and social opportunity as they are hemmed in through “new redlining” that limits the type of housing that can be built, Richard Kahlenberg vividly illustrates why America has a housing crisis. He also illustrates why economic segregation matters since where you live affects access to transportation, employment opportunities, decent health care, and good schools. He shows that housing choice has been socially engineered to the benefit of the affluent, and, that astonishingly the most restrictive zoning is found in politically liberal cities where racial views are more progressive.

Despite this there is hope. Kahlenberg tells the inspiring stories of growing number of local and national movements working to tear down the walls that inflicts so much damage on the lives of millions of Americans.

  • “A valuable guide to fixing one of America’s most enduring social ills.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “A thoughtful, worthy argument for fair-housing reforms that are truly fair.” 
  • “In this brilliant book, Richard Kahlenberg deftly integrates quantitative and qualitative evidence to illuminate the basic theme of his career and one of the central controversies in contemporary America—how to reconcile the tension between class and race. More specifically, he shows how ‘snob zoning’ leads to segregation by both race and class and thus blocks opportunity for all Americans. Nevertheless, it is ultimately an optimistic book, showing necessary reforms are both technically feasible and politically possible. He eloquently evokes the final dream of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, uniting working-class whites and people of color in a single coalition for reform.”
    Robert D. Putnam, research professor, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of Bowling Alone and The Upswing
  • “Kahlenberg, in his profound new book Excluded, exposes the hidden class injuries of exclusionary zoning. Once you see the terrible toll of this socially permissible form of discrimination, you won’t be able to unsee it. It will change the way you think about your society and about the proper goals of a progressive politics.”
    Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  • “Kahlenberg’s in-depth exploration into the history of America’s exclusionary housing policies is required reading for anyone interested in understanding the housing affordability crisis in the United States and its ripple effects throughout society. Our communities and citizens alike would be better off if every policymaker took the time to read through this exquisite undertaking, where Mr. Kahlenberg uses real-life examples and expert analysis to provide essential insight into one of the most important, complex challenges facing our nation.”
    Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II
  • “I loved reading Excluded.  It addresses the great unfinished business of the civil rights movement: inequality in housing, which perpetuates inequality in schooling. Kahlenberg’s practical proposals would give civil-rights lawyers the tools they need to fight persistent and deeply harmful practices that segregate Americans by race and class.”
    John Brittain, former chief counsel, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
  • “Kahlenberg’s assessment of the causes, implications, and cures for class-based residential segregation is must-reading for all those interested in urban policy and politics.  His analysis is highly accessible and engaging, while rigorous and well-grounded in the latest research.  Most importantly, he offers an unusually thorough and insightful prescription for breaking down the barriers posed by exclusionary zoning, not just to people of color, but to all lower income families.”
    Vicki Been, NYU School of Law
  • “A very worthy book of contemporary and historical relevance.” 

On Sale
Jul 11, 2023
Page Count
352 pages

Richard D. Kahlenberg

About the Author

Richard D. Kahlenberg is director of the American Identity Project at the Progressive Policy Institute and teaches at George Washington University. Known as “the nation’s chief proponent of class-based affirmative action in higher education admissions,” his work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and the Atlantic. He is the author or editor of 18 books, most recently Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don’t See.


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