Author(s): Asya Magazinnik, Michael Hankinson 

Status/Format: In Progress

Date: 2021

The Supply–Equity Trade-off: The Effect of Spatial Representation on the Local Housing Supply



While the institutions that structure spatial representation vary widely across U.S. municipalities, the distributive consequences of local electoral rules have not been adequately studied through a spatial lens. We leverage the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which compelled over one hundred cities to switch from at-large to district elections for city council, to causally identify how equalizing spatial representation changes the permitting of new housing. District elections decrease the supply of new multifamily housing, particularly in segregated cities with sizable and systematically underrepresented minority groups. But we also find evidence that district elections end the disproportionate channeling of new housing into minority neighborhoods. Our findings highlight a trade-off: at-large representation may facilitate the production of goods with diffuse benefits and concentrated costs, but it does so by forcing less politically powerful constituencies to bear the brunt of those costs.