Many U.S. cities are in the middle of a housing crisis. Some, like San Francisco, have been struggling with it for years, while others, like Portland and Seattle, hope to avoid following the same trajectory.
There are many factors at play, including high rates of migration to urban areas, and the impact of peer-to-peer homesharing platforms like Airbnb. But some argue that NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) homeowners are a part of the problem. According to The Atlantic,
“[M]any of the San Francisco activists most passionate about improving affordability in theory are pursuing that goal in economically dubious ways that are, as often as not, counterproductive…. [These include] preservationist homeowners, the anti-density wing of the environmental movement, and other anti-growth forces.”
A new subset of housing activists are pushing back, with “YIMBY” groups gaining momentum in a number of U.S. cities. Residents of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Toronto, and more have all stood up to deliver an enthusiastic “Yes in my backyard!”
YIMBY groups support higher urban density, better public transportation, and in some cases, accessory dwelling units (literally) in their backyard. According to NextCity,
“YIMBYs seek to testify on behalf of what they consider the silent majority that will benefit from more development and, particularly, more housing in urban areas. Their numbers may be smaller, but they hope to provide potent dissenting voices that give cover to public officials otherwise anxious about supporting development.”
Last month, the YIMBY movement held its first national conference from June 16-19 in Boulder, Colorado – a metro area facing a particularly high rate of incoming residents. The YIMBY 2016 event drew over 150 participants and was hosted by Better Boulder.
“Many sessions in Boulder explored nuances of social justice, environmental responsibility, property rights, coalition building, and the delicate challenge of advocating for development without coming off as shills for for-profit developers.”
Both the YIMBY and NIMBY movements attract left-leaning advocates, and some YIMBYs say they agree with their opponents on “99 percent of issues — diverging only on the issue of whether developers’ profits comport with the public good…. Speakers in Boulder told affecting personal stories about the need for housing and delivered empirically driven arguments about the economic and ecological necessity of denser cities.”
As more cities face rising rents and increased population growth, we’ll likely see more YIMBY activism in the near future. Next on the calendar is the YIMBY Festival in Toronto, which will take place on September 24, 2016 and is hosted by Shape My City.
Where do you stand on the NIMBY vs. YIMBY debate? How housing affordability impacted your city? Check out this video from 2015’s YIMBY Festival in Toronto to learn more about the movement:
Main photo by Guillaume Dutilh (cropped)