Beyond Hollow Victories: The Affirmative Obligations Remedy for Exclusionary Zoning-Park View Heights Corp. v. City of Black Jack


Success in litigation challenging an exclusionary zoning ordinance provides no guarantee of success in actually securing the housing that the judgment entitles the plaintiffs to build. Where an invalid zoning ordinance has stymied the construction of a particular housing project, courts have traditionally offered injunctive relief to prevent defendants from interfering with plaintiffs’ plans. Because the injunction does not require defendants actively to facilitate the construction, and because municipal antagonism may actually deter plaintiffs from proceeding with the project, the injunctive remedy frequently fails to provide plaintiffs with effective relief.

Recently, courts have recognized that the goal of exclusionary zoning litigation is not merely to invalidate a given ordinance, but to build housing. In an effort to promote the construction of housing, courts have experimented with more forceful remedies. Occasionally, a court will direct issuance of a building permit enabling the plaintiff to proceed with construction or issue an injunction requiring that “defendants affirmatively take whatever steps are necessary to allow the [plaintiffs] to begin construction.” Yet even these more substantial remedies fail to make plaintiffs whole when spiraling costs and the inability to obtain increased federal funds render construction economically infeasible.

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Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with