Land Matters Podcast
As the nationwide affordable housing crisis intensifies, so does the fighting.
A lively group of advocates for more multifamily housing construction has gained momentum under the banner of YIMBY: Yes in My Backyard. They have a simple message: build more housing, and prices will eventually moderate. And they’ve had it with established neighbors who use local zoning and legal appeals to block housing construction—the infamous NIMBYs, who pledge: Not in My Backyard.
YIMBYism started off with a bang, fueled by frustration over the lack of new housing in the Bay Area. But lately the campaign has run into trouble. Some critics say that increased development—especially high-end housing and the attendant yoga studios and trendy coffee shops—leads affluent newcomers to “discover” low-income neighborhoods, causing gentrification and displacement. And residents of single-family neighborhoods cite worries about traffic, parking, and “neighborhood character.”
In California, legislation that would have fast-tracked dense housing projects near transit was derailed by a suburban lawmaker—even after the proponents added tenant protections and inclusionary housing, the policy that requires a portion of new residential development to be below market-rate. Opposition to greater height and density is deep.
So, what do the YIMBYs do now? Episode 2 of the Lincoln Institute podcast Land Matters features a wide-ranging conversation with housing advocate Randy Shaw of San Francisco, author of Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.
It’s very bad out there, Shaw says in the interview, as retired baby boomers in single-family homes defend their turf against changes that could in any way affect rising home values.
“I’ve said many times, the best job in the world is to own a single-family home in Noe Valley where the value increases $60,000 a year,” Shaw says, referring to an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. But he’s also optimistic and sees signs of progress in Denver, Austin, San Diego, and Seattle, which have removed some regulatory barriers to development while implementing inclusionary housing policies.
“For the first time, we have people who are testifying for housing, [who are] not connected to any developer. They’re saying, ‘I’m in the neighborhood, and I’m for housing.’”
Photograph: Anthony Flint