Invisible Businessman: Undermining Black Enterprise with Land Use Rules

Rates of self-employment in African-American neighborhoods remain feeble. Although the reasons behind the failure of black businesses are complex, zoning regulations play a largely unexamined role in constraining the development of African-American enterprises. Land use fees, municipal zoning board decisions, and the general insistence on separating residential from commercial uses all impress unique and disproportionate harms on African-American merchants, making it difficult to find affordable business space in suitable locations.Moreover, current attempts to reorganize the land use system are inadequate to solve the problems facing black businesspeople. A complete rolling back of zoning laws is impractical and unnecessary, while attempts to promote street vending or home-based business run aground on the objections of local homeowners. Instead of pursuing these failed strategies, municipal governments should create programs that transfer abandoned buildings to fledgling merchants of the inner city. This new land use policy could spark a revival of urban entrepreneurship and help restore crumbling neighborhoods to their former glory. Unlike other proposals to reform zoning laws, transferring vacant government-owned land unites the interests of businesspeople, homeowners, and local governments. Inner-city merchants receive the space they need to foster new business ideas. Local homeowners rid themselves of the scourge of empty buildings. Finally, municipalities generate new revenue by returning unproductive buildings to the tax rolls.

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