It’s an ageless fight waged in board rooms, council chambers and auditoriums across the state.
Governing bodies take their seats on raised platforms as a parade of angry citizens lambast the latest homebuilding proposal, worried about traffic, schools, crime and property values.
The developers, they say, are greedy bloodsuckers.
The residents, developers say, are NIMBYs — happy to see new shopping centers, apartment blocks and housing tracts, so long as they’re “not in my backyard.”
Now, there’s a new player in this well-worn battleground: YIMBYs.
These are pro-housing, mostly young urban dwellers willing to say “yes in my backyard” to residential development of all types, including subsidized housing for the poor and for-profit housing for the well-to-do.
YIMBY groups have been sprouting up in recent years in high-cost cities like New York, Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. Supporters drew about 200 people from across the country, Canada and Great Britain to the second annual YIMBYtown conference held last July in Oakland.
In recent years, the movement has spread to Southern California.
Several YIMBY groups took root in Los Angeles County two years ago, with names like Abundant Housing LA and Santa Monica Forward. In March, Orange County activists banded together to form People for Housing.
The Inland Empire, where rents and home prices are relatively affordable, has yet to join this trend, YIMBY supporters said. But YIMBY groups have cropped up in urban areas like San Diego and Santa Cruz.
This past summer, an Oakland housing activist with backing from high-tech firms created California YIMBY, a statewide group formed to lobby for pro-housing legislation in Sacramento.
“We support developments we think are good on a case-by-case basis,” said Mark Vallianatos, co-founder and a steering committee member of Abundant Housing LA, which recently campaigned against a Los Angeles building moratorium and regularly stages “action alerts” to generate support for new housing in the city.
YIMBYs are a new wrinkle in a housing crisis that has the governor, the state legislature, the state Realtor association and the Southern California Association of Governments all grappling for solutions.
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office and Ben Metcalf, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, have said California needs to boost housing production by at least 100,000 units a year.
YIMBYs are responding to that call by supporting more housing, they say. Their goal is to address high housing costs by building more homes.
“In Orange County, we have different issues, but the root of the issue is the same: A lack of housing,” said Elizabeth Hansburg, an urban planner from Fullerton who co-founded People for Housing in March. “We have a housing shortage.”
If city councils, boards of supervisors and other decision makers are only hearing from housing opponents, they’re more inclined to block a development, or shrink it, Vallianatos said.
“But if they hear from people who support housing, then it’s not just a one-sided conversation anymore.”
A front for developersYIMBYs say they are part of a grassroots movement.
But some Southern California slow-growth and affordable housing advocates say this new faction is “misguided” at best and a “front for developers” at worst.
YIMBYs “have an unsophisticated and unnuanced philosophy that we should build the maximum amount of housing regardless of displacement or price point,” said Santa Monica Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich, who along with her husband spent $125,000 of their own money supporting affordable housing and homeless services initiatives.
Himmelrich said YIMBYs’ “faux affordable housing policies” are designed to hyper-gentrify high-cost Santa Monica. YIMBYs aligned themselves with developer-backed political action committees that helped defeat Santa Monica’s anti-development Measure LV last November, she added.
“They’re not independent thinkers at all. … They show up at so many meetings, clapping for developers,” said Jill Stewart, executive director of Coalition to Preserve LA, which backed Los Angeles’ Measure S, which would have imposed a two-year moratorium on mega-projects.
“They’re against single-family homes, and they’re very much in favor of higher density, and they’re acting as a front for developers,” Stewart added. “ … They’re from the supply-and-demand side. The say, if you build as much luxury housing (as you can), it will trickle down. That’s never worked.”
Jim Gardner, councilman in the Orange County city of Lake Forest, said developers routinely funnel money to political action committees and to candidates who will do their bidding. So, it wouldn’t surprise him if developers are behind the YIMBY movement as well. And he takes issue with the claim that so-called NIMBY’s are against all development.
“People for Housing? Who isn’t for housing?” he asked. “That’s kind of stupid. Everybody’s for housing, but it needs to be the right kind of housing.”
YIMBYs deny they coordinate with developers, noting their interests sometimes diverge.
While they support high-density housing, particularly near jobs and mass-transportation lines, YIMBYs oppose new developments that eliminate rent-controlled property, affordable units or replace apartments with single-family homes.
The pro-development San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation sued the city of Lafayette for approving 44 single-family homes near a transit stop in lieu of higher-density housing.
“We think it’s bad society has gotten anti-developer,” said Abundant Housing LA co-founder Vallianatos. “We think they provide a useful service. But we don’t work for them. We’re not doing their bidding.”
“Developers are people who make money building homes,” added Brian Hanlon, an Oakland housing activist who founded California YIMBY.
“YIMBYs are people who want to live in homes that they can afford.”
‘Action alerts’Abundant Housing LA issues regular action alerts calling on its 700 supporters to write letters and show up at city and neighborhood council meetings to support developments that increase the housing supply.
A letter-writing campaign supported a 452-unit development in downtown Los Angeles. Supporters also were urged to show up at a city Land Use and Planning Committee hearing on a 658-unit project in Marina del Rey.
Abundant Housing LA also rallied against demolishing a Venice four-plex to make way for a three-story house.
Orange County’s People for Housing, meanwhile, is partnering with local government and business groups to advocate for more housing. On Aug. 24, the Orange County Council of Governments, a countywide planning group, voted to allocate $15,000 for two pilot “citizens’ housing academies” designed to train others “to champion housing in their cities.”
The first such academy will take place in north county this fall or winter, with a south county session planned for the spring.
“We’re hoping that we’re able to have a dialogue and bring people to the conversation that have been left out, people that are supportive of having new housing,” said Marnie O’Brien Primmer, OCCOG executive director.
Rent too darn highThose attending a recent People for Housing gathering at an Anaheim brew pub said high housing costs are their chief motivation for supporting the Orange County YIMBY group. Just two of the 20 attendees said they work in the homebuilding industry.
Others included a 28-year-old civil engineer and his wife, an architectural consultant, who fret about having to move out of state to be able to put down roots and start a family; a single mother of two who’s seen friends move to Texas to find cheaper housing; and a community organizer who thinks it’s his moral duty to support more housing for low-income families.
“I find NIMBYism to be selfish and only concerned with their property values instead of the well-being of people in our society,” said Joese Hernandez, a community organizer with Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development.
Others want more transit-oriented housing that boosts Southern California’s reliance on rail and buses.
“We have to be more automobile free,” said Brian Yanity, 36, of Fullerton.
Hansburg, People for Housing co-founder, said she has a mailing list of about 100 supporters so far.
Not ‘trickle down’California YIMBY founder Brian Hanlon believes there’s a nexus between progressive and pro-business causes in the YIMBY movement.
Hanlon has raised just over $650,000, mostly from tech-industry executives worried the lack of housing will hamper growth.
But the Oakland housing activist said he also supports rent control and argues that building more housing near jobs and transit are essential to meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
He bristles at the notion that YIMBYs back a “trickle-down” theory as if they are Reagan-era supply-side economists.
Increasing the housing supply does lower housing costs, he argued, and it reduces displacement of existing families by wealthier newcomers able to pay more for housing.
“Housing policy in California has been a disaster for young people for decades,” Hanlon said. “It’s gotten so bad that middle-class young people say there’s no future for me in California if we don’t get these housing costs under control. In order to do that, we need to build much more housing.”
Original Article can be found here on Orange County Register.