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YIMBY, White Privilege, and the Soul of Our Cities

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Shelterforce, by Fernando Marti


February 19, 2019


“We’ve underbuilt housing for decades.”


YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard) leaders keep repeating this line. It’s become a mantra that now gets repeated at the highest levels, from a California state legislative report to a White House paper, to the point that it’s become gospel. Never mind that if we dig into it, the facts are very different.


YIMBY leaders also have a compelling explanation for why we have supposedly “underbuilt” for decades. At fault is a combination of NIMBYs and rabid progressive activists.


Equity advocates are familiar with real NIMBYs, older white homeowners who often want to protect their property values by keeping others out. Off and on over the decades, many of us in the affordable housing movement have had to fight one version or another of NIMBYism over exclusionary policies.


I first encountered the term YIMBY when community organizers were fighting in support of affordable housing and in opposition to NIMBYs. The combination of those with NIMBY sentiments and real estate developers eager to create exclusive communities led progressives to fight for inclusionary housing, demanding that developers create mixed-income communities.


But according to the YIMBY leaders, now we equity advocates are the problem too, little different from the NIMBYs, rabid progressives who are too naïve or ideological to understand how the market really works. In this story line, in the name of fighting evictions and displacement, we progressives, we communities of color, we poor people and immigrants, we working-class queers stupidly don’t realize that luxury development now will eventually become the affordable housing of the future!


(Editor’s Note: Here’s a more nuanced look at that idea.)


It’s simple supply-and-demand, they say -- Econ 101 -- and we obviously didn’t go to college if we don’t understand that simple truth.


They say we foolish activists abuse environmental regulations and planning processes that allow for democratic participation to stop or slow development. So the answer to the problem is to do away with those pesky regulations, limit public input, and give up on any attempt to get real estate developers to mitigate their impacts on our neighborhoods.


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