I first learned about the Yimby movement, which started in the San Francisco Bay area in the United States, from an article in the Guardian.
But its bang on point.
The article starts with the tale of a lady raising objections to a development scheme because it would block the sunlight to her zucchini garden.
“You’re talking about zucchinis? Really? Because I’m struggling to pay rent,” retorted an indignant Victoria Fierce at that 13 June meeting. Fierce went on to argue that it was precisely the failure to build new housing that is causing rents to climb in San Francisco, to the point that she can barely afford to live anywhere in the Bay Area.
This is at the heart of what the Yimby movement is all about.
What is a Yimby?
A Yimby is the opposite of a nimby. Nimby stands for ‘Not In My Back Yard’. Yimby, on the other hand, stands for YES In My Back Yard.
Many people concerned about the growing housing problems – which are occurring all over the world not just in the UK – tend to focus on the high rents. “If only there was rent control”, many people say, “it would be so much better”.
However, it wouldn’t. As explained in this article on the San Fransisco housing debate:
Because the way we distribute housing currently is (mostly) via the price mechanism, the way most people experience their displacement is by being priced out. But distributing housing stock by some other method wouldn’t solve the displacement problem.
Suppose the total demand for housing in the [San Fransisco] Bay is 20 million people. Currently we have housing for about 7 million people. If we distributed the limited housing we have by lottery, 13 million people would experience displacement as losing the lottery. If we distributed it via political favoritism, people’s experience of displacement would be finding out their application for housing wasn’t granted.
Either way it doesn’t matter. If 20 million people want housing, and you only have housing for 7 million of them, then 13 million people are out of luck, no matter how you distribute it.
So Yimbys are focusing on the question of supply.
One big problem with any new development is locals opposing it because they are worried that the building will be ugly or shade their gardens or make traffic or parking worse. Yimbys say (as discussed in this article)
Of course, neighbors should have input. But what neighbors have done with their input is not make better projects, but to shut down projects altogether. I’ve had lots of conversations where I ask these people about where they think the people who would have lived in the building are going to go. They mostly say, “Who cares? What does that matter for anything?” For YIMBYs, it’s the number-one thing.
What Yimbys do is support ANY development – as whether the housing is posh or ‘affordable’ – it will still be housing.
However, the preference is for high-density housing as this will allow more people to live in a smaller area.
This will help to protect farming and also help with climate change as commuting creates carbon. What is needed is more dense housing near business districts.
Price is not the point
If you have 10 million people who want to live somewhere and there are only 7 million homes – this will create a problem. If on the other hand, there are 10 million homes, but only 7 million who want to live there then market forces will ensure that the prices drop.
But they are not going to drop when there is such massive demand.
What do Yimbys do?
Basically, support all housing development. At the moment the main people participating in planning appeals will be the Nimbys. They will be motivated as the development will affect their home.
But if they are the only people making representations, then their view will probably prevail.
So Yimbys make a point of putting the opposing view.
After all the housing we need is not going to be built all at once. It will be the culmination of lots of small developments. So the Yimbys support those small developments and see that they get built. One by one.
A report was published recently by the founder of the London Yimby group on the Adam Smith Institute website so the movement has clearly crossed the pond!
There are various Yimby groups in the UK, in particular in the three worst affected cities –
There is a directory of Yimbys here.
If you live elsewhere and there is a housing problem you may want to consider setting up your own Yimby group. There is a guidance page here although there is not much on it yet. Probably reaching out to other Yimby groups for support and advice would be a better way forward.
Or just make sure that you support every housing development in your area and speak up for it. But it is best done through a Yimby group.
Next week I will be looking at jobs.