Following the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, many cities began switching from at-large elections, where city councilmembers represented the entire city, to district based elections, where separate members each represented a slice of the city. How did this change affect how much new housing got built and where it was located?
Michael Hankinson of George Washington University along with Asya Magazinnik of MIT studied the shift and found that the switch resulted in fewer units of multi-family housing. However, shifting to district-based elections ended the practice of disproportionately placing new housing into non-white neighborhoods. The results indicate that an elected officials’ response to neighborhood NIMBYs changes with the proportion of their district that they represent, but also that empowering traditionally disenfranchised communities can prevent these constituencies from bearing all the costs of new development.