Between the passage of Minneapolis 2040, legislation introduced by California Senator Scott Wiener, London Breed’s push to streamline the development approval process in San Francisco, and renewed federal interest in housing affordability, YIMBYism is an idea whose time has come.
This platform has something for everyone. For those on the right, they give a full-throated endorsement of the market system as “an efficient tool for producing many types of goods and services, including housing.” As to centrally planned and government-funded housing, which many anti-private development types prefer as a solution to the affordability crisis, they express skepticism.
It is not necessary for the government to build housing directly, pick market winners, direct the details of development, or subject every individual housing project to elaborate processes. Such attempts, while often well-meaning, tend towards inefficiency, arbitrariness, self-interest, corruption, and inequity.
For those of a more liberal/progressive bent, they point to the environmental benefits of cities and how density promotes diversity.
Dense cities are an environmental necessity. They allow us to preserve open spaces rather than sprawl into them. Our densest cities emit 70% less carbon per capita than the national average. Restricting urban density exacerbates climate change…
The most interesting, vibrant, creative cities welcome all kinds of people — including all races, genders, ages, abilities, and sexual orientations — and integrate them throughout the city. All professions must be able to live and thrive throughout the city. Teachers, nurses, artists, firefighters, plumbers, engineers, writers, managers, and waiters, among many others, are part of a complete community.
Of course, land-use and zoning deregulation is one of those special cases where right-wing means are the best way to achieve left-wing ends. Their policy proposals include:
Upzone all city neighborhoods, including those currently restricted to single-family homes, while protecting existing low-income residents. This means raising height limits, legalizing apartments, and making it easier to add accessory dwelling units.
Repeal zoning restrictions that prohibit mixed-use development. Blending residential, commercial, and cultural uses creates more liveable, more interesting neighborhoods, encourages walking and biking over driving, and reduces congestion and pollution.
Make permitting by-right, meaning zoning rules are clearly defined and conforming buildings and businesses are automatically approved. A few loud voices should not have de facto veto power over new housing or the ability to bully small business owners. Abolish discretionary review processes and amend laws like CEQA that are used as cudgels to prevent any new development.
Housing subsidies over rent control. While price controls help some residents, they raise rents on newcomers, they reduce the supply of housing, and the benefits accrue disproportionately to the already-advantaged. They do not solve the fundamental problem: there are not enough homes for those who want to live in our cities.
When the YIMBY train first left the station, it was mostly focused on rallying activists in an ad hoc manner to support local development where NIMBYs were trying to hold the line. This articulation of a comprehensive urban policy means the movement is picking up steam.