As the affordability crisis in the United States worsens, a number of grassroots YIMBY (yes-in-my-backyard) groups have emerged across the country to mobilize against regressive zoning and land-use regulations.
YIMBYism is an idea whose time has come, and Seattle Magazine’s listing of YIMBYs as one of Emerald City’s most influential people of the year may be a bellwether for their rising prominence:
Today, the politically diverse movement has an active Seattle presence that is focused on saying yes to new density in urban neighborhoods. In the past year, YIMBYs have helped elect two council members: freshman Teresa Mosqueda and incumbent Lorena González, both of whom faced anti-density opponents.
They’ve advocated to allow homeowners to build second and third units on their property; pushed the city to convert the Talaris Conference Center site in Laurelhurst into affordable, high-density housing; and testified in favor of tiny-house villages to serve as temporary encampments that provide shelter to homeless Seattleites. And they also have helped to reframe the debate about a proposed affordable housing development in Magnolia’s Fort Lawton.
Battles over zoning and housing move slowly, so the true impact of today’s YIMBY activism might not be visible for years. What’s clear is that YIMBYs are framing important debates—and changing what it means to be a neighborhood activist.
Economists and policymakers have been concerned about NIMBYism for decades, but only recently has the rubber met the road for activists groups trying to undo (or just as often, create the prevention of new) restrictive zoning regulations.
Grassroots activism, from the Tea Party and Indivisible, is a valuable tool in politics, and a committed cluster of YIMBYs can do a great deal at the local level, as Seattle Magazine’s writeup shows.
Part of the reason NIMBYs perform well is because they not only have a strong incentive to mobilize to protect their economic self interest (their home values), but also because the venues at which many regulations emerge are at the city- or neighborhood-level, making it possible for a relatively small number of people to make an outsized impact on policy. This makes zoning and land-use regulation a case study in concentrated benefits (for homeowners) and diffuse costs (for renters or would-be residents).
But a committed group of neighborhood YIMBYs could flip the script. If they can gain a critical mass, they’ll be the ones hooting and hollering, but for the betterment of cities, their rent-burdened residents, and neighbors that might have been were it not for artificially high home prices.