PodcastNational Housing Market Outlook

Getting to ‘Yes’ on Housing through ‘YIMBYism.’

Dean Wehrli

Dean Wehrli

June 23, 2023

Planning officials fear them. Housing developers and builders loathe them. Ever present and hard to appease, they are the NIMBY—the “not in my backyard” anti-housing advocate. The stereotype of an angry, finger-wagging busybody always saying “no” to new housing may be an unfair stereotype, but their impact is real. Increasingly, though, there is an alternative seeking to move the needle in the opposite direction. Counter to the NIMBY crowd is the “yes in my backyard” crowd, better known as the YIMBYs.

On this episode of the New Home Insights podcast, we meet one. Laura Foote is the Executive Director of YIMBY Action. With her help, we explore this movement and its strategies, failures, and successes.

Featured guest

Laura Foote, Executive Director and Board Member, YIMBY Action

Let's meet the YIMBYs

  • “Yes in my backyard” is exactly what it sounds like—an organized movement to advocate for the need for new housing. To lobby, pressure, plan, strategize, and hopefully lead to a more positive political environment for housing.
 
  • YIMBY Action has 49 local chapters nationwide, though they are strongest in California, where the need is often the greatest and antagonism to new housing at its most fevered pitch.
 
  • They work at all levels of government—city, county, state, and federal—but the local level is where YIMBY Action sees its most action.

Fear and loathing at your local planning commission hearing

  • At its heart, YIMBYism is a reaction. But what drives the NIMBYism that causes this reaction?
 
  • Certainly, it is partly motivated by fears of more congested streets or losing a neighborhood’s historical character, and not every proposed development should be built. But when NIMBYism rules, there is an almost inevitable result—making a housing crunch worse.
 
  • Motives are varied, but the key seems to be housing values. Denying new housing is all too often about the perception that doing so maintains or enhances the price of your home.

Sometimes unintended consequences shouldn't be called that

 
  • And the also almost-inevitable outcome of a supply shortage is a rise in prices. This means NIMBYs help price out new housing wherever they hold sway.
 
  • Laura believes an almost visceral appeal is one of the most effective means to support housing. If you pull up the welcome mat when you move in, it means younger households will never be able to afford to live near you. If you want to see your grandkids take their first step, a YIMBY advocate might say, “You need to be more flexible.”

Making the argument for more housing

  • Ultimately, YIMBY Action wants more housing and tries to nudge policymakers in that direction. Laura thinks the need for more housing can be distilled into three reasons she calls the “Three E’s”:   
    • Economic: More housing leads to more economic activity and a more economically sustainable community.
    • Environmental: More housing doesn’t have to mean sprawl, so Laura argues for denser, vibrant, walkable communities that lower a city’s carbon footprint.
    • Equity: Owning a home is a major component of building wealth, and housing security floats a lot of boats.

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About The Author

Dean Wehrli
Dean Wehrli
Principal
Dean helps housing sector clients figure out not just what might work and what might not, but why.

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