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Growing YIMBY movement a good sign for affordable housing

Renters and prospective homeowners across the United States are feeling the crunch of a severe housing shortage.

It is no secret that tens of millions of families are struggling to cover the cost of housing — or that this crisis deserves a real solution. That is why we are seeing a growing YIMBY movement in cities like San Francisco, Cambridge and, of course, in New York.

YIMBYs — an acronym for “Yes, In My Backyard” — are fighting to build more housing in high-opportunity areas and directly challenging the usual suspects that restrict housing supply: Restrictive zoning, excessive landmarking, and city officials who cave to pressure from a vocal, wealthier minority in their districts.

Here in New York, YIMBY advocates are stepping up and joining the nationwide movement to fight for greater density and smarter urban planning.

This is good news for all of us concerned with New York’s stifling affordability crisis and the families impacted by it.

Those of us familiar with local politics and land use know all too well that NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) forces can dominate the neighborhood discussions and Community Board gatherings across the five boroughs.

The impact of this can be devastating: even though there are plenty of New Yorkers who favor smart development, their voices can be drowned out in the important discussions shaping the skyline. That means much-needed housing doesn’t get built and that countless families are left out in the cold.

The YIMBY movement hopes to change that.

Broadly speaking, YIMBY organizers push for new development — both market-rate and affordable housing — because they understand that to grow sustainably, New York needs to build more housing of all types.
Crucially, though, YIMBY groups do not focus just on low-income neighborhoods that have typically been home to development in recent years. They also focus on higher-income NYC neighborhoods, which tend to be more politically powerful and more restrictionist in terms of development.

This phenomenon is a real problem for New York City: Wealthier neighborhoods are often the areas where development would be most beneficial to the city as a whole.

Moreover, limiting housing supply in higher-income neighborhoods leads to both racial and economic segregation — and that is not an outcome conducive to a sustainable New York.

Such restrictions have profoundly negative economic impact on New York and have played a large role in our affordability crisis.

Berkeley Professor Enrico Moretti and his colleague found that New York, San Francisco and San Jose had cut their growth rates in half over the last 50 years by artificially driving up the cost of housing, ultimately costing the American economy one and a half trillion dollars.

That is why it is so encouraging to see YIMBYs advocate for new housing development in transit-rich areas, which provides a significant boost to local economies in addition to the obvious increase in housing stock.

That is why many YIMBY groups focus on developments in higher-income areas connected to the subway, like 80 Flatbush in Downtown Brooklyn. Beyond even specific developments, YIMBY organizers hope to see policies that result in upzoning that would allow for greater urban density, raising height limits, reducing setbacks, streamlining the approval process for social housing and for ending exclusionary zoning.

Many of these roadblocks to development are abused by neighborhoods seeking to limit density and development.

Inserting these messages directly into the ULURP conversations, Community Board meetings and City Hall hearings is vital to the long-term health and sustainability of New York City.

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing supports the YIMBY movement not just in New York but across the country — and we hope it leads to the solutions that all Americans deserve in their fight for an affordable place to call home

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