As a native Californian, I can tell you that The Golden State can be a great place to live if you enjoy three critical factors: Affordable housing, a reasonable commute and, for those who rely on cars, convenient parking. But for many of the state’s nearly 40 million residents – as well as those living in many other places in the U.S. – the lack of new housing options is leading not just to high prices and low vacancies, but also to punishing commutes, more homeless encampments, and an exodus of younger, well-educated people to other places.
To combat the various challenges resulting from attainable new Housing not keeping up with population growth, many previous members of the no- or slow-groups long known as NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) are increasingly drawn to groups known by YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) or even PHIMBY (Public Housing in My Backyard). Others not wanting to join these groups prefer the simpler term of Housing Ally.
What they share in common is the goal of educating existing residents on the substantial consequences associated with saying “NO!” to new housing developments, especially the higher-density types centered around job and transit centers. For many NIMBYs, however, their primary concern is that transit options need to be improved before more housing units are built, making the argument that solving the housing crisis will require a more systematic approach beyond simply adding more units. This is also where grass-roots politics also come into play.
Over the past few years, various YIMBY groups such as People for Housing in California’s Orange County have made it their mission to not just educate their fellow citizens on the benefits of new housing, but also to recruit citizen volunteers to show up at city planning and council meetings in support of specific projects. Still, according to Elizabeth Hansburg, an industry professional and co-founder of the non-profit group, more funding from the building industry is needed.
Much as builders and developers can benefit from the government affairs departments of various NAHB chapters to encourage more housing supply, YIMBY groups help complete that equation by showing their neighbors that they have every right to demand attainable housing in the communities in which they already live. As Hansburg explains, “It’s better to have a person who lives in the community versus a guy in a nice suit advocating (for a new housing project).”
Recently, a housing bill to up-zone single-family neighborhoods for higher densities in California known as SB50 failed in the legislature due to organized opposition from suburban homeowners and their representatives. However, a related poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 62 percent of adults surveyed were in favor of requiring cities and counties to allow apartment construction in existing single-family neighborhoods, as long as they’re near rail stations or clusters of jobs. This is where education on the consequences of inaction becomes even more important.
According to the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, despite the county’s homeless services doubling the number of people moving into appropriate housing over the past two years, at the same time the number of persons experiencing homelessness grew by 12 percent countywide and 16 percent within the city limits. While this rise was certainly less than the increase noted in the nearby counties of Orange (up 43 percent) and Ventura (up 28 percent), the system continues to struggle against the rising tide of long-time residents who become homeless, due in large part to a lack of affordable housing options.
Nationally, HUD’s own Annual Homeless Assessment Report showed over half a million people experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018, of which about one-third were in unsheltered locations. Over half of this group was also concentrated in the country’s 50 largest cities. In addition, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, roughly a quarter of all renters in the United States spent more than half of their income on housing in 2018, or well more than the suggested maximum of 30 percent. When households spend this much on shelter, they have little else left over for food, clothing and transportation, leading to a spillover effect onto the larger economy. This is where a combination of YIMBY and PHIMBY policies can assist.
While the building industry can marshal enormous creativity to provide attainable housing, it doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Ultimately, solving the housing crisis will also require the assistance of informed citizens to convince their peers and leaders that we’re all in this together.