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Report: Pandemic Pushed Local Officials to Rewrite Rules for Home Businesses

October 29, 2021 by TWN Staff
Report: Pandemic Pushed Local Officials to Rewrite Rules for Home Businesses
Kasi Hartsoch stirs chili in her home while preparing food for her home-based business in Gillette, Wyo. (Mike Moore Gillette News Record via The Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — Though it wasn’t the only factor in decision-making, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have sped up the rate at which local officials rewrote long-standing zoning and permitting rules to allow for home businesses, a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests.

According to a piece by the center’s Caitlin Dewey, at least a dozen cities and counties, including Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois, have considered bills designed to ease rules for a range of home businesses since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

Citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the piece notes Americans filed more than 4.3 million new business applications in 2020, an increase of nearly 25% from the year before.

The entire analysis can be found here.

Dewey writes that the surge has been particularly pronounced among small, sole-proprietor operations.

“Federal statistics show that such businesses are more likely to be helmed by women or people of color — the populations that have faced the worst economic fallout from COVID-19,” she writes. “Women, for instance, run nearly 42% of nonemployer firms, and Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs lead about 12% and 14%, respectively. A 2019 paper published in the journal Food Policy also found that cottage food producers were most likely to be women with low incomes.”

The report goes on to offer accounts from various cities and localities across the nation.

It notes that Nashville, Tennessee has been a battleground for home business owner rights since 2017, when it was sued by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian non-profit law firm on behalf of a home-based hairstylist and music producer.

That lawsuit is ongoing.

However, in 2020 the city council voted 25-14 to lift some of the prohibitions that had previously barred almost anyone working at home from seeing their clients on-site.

Closer to the D.C. metropolitan area, Dewey notes that in March Fairfax County, Virginia voted to overhaul its county zoning ordinance to allow for more home businesses.

In the vast majority of cases across the country, the Pew analysis found that most opponents of such rule changes argue that welcoming home businesses will diminish their quality of life, increasing traffic, noise and pollution in their neighborhoods.

As a result, the report found, debates among local lawmakers typically center on how to balance the rights of small entrepreneurs against the concerns of their neighbors.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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