Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Want to grow the economy? Then shrink community opposition.

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference 

Last week, economists at ApartmentList brought us news that in recent years, “only 10 of the nation’s 50 largest metros have produced enough new housing to keep pace with job growth.” ApartmentList also found that while job growth often happens in a region’s core city, a greater share of places to live are added to the suburbs than to the core cities. The result, of course, is that demand near job centers outpaces supply and rents increase dramatically.

While ApartmentList was crunching these numbers, the YIMBYTown conference was happening in Oakland. YIMBY stands for “yes in my backyard,” the pro-development counterpoint to community opposition. Broadly, YIMBYs support housing development—especially rental housing development— particularly near job centers, even if that makes existing residents uncomfortable. First reported as a sort of Bay Area tech economy anomaly, the YIMBY movement has taken hold in high-cost cities around the country. What’s most exciting to me about the YIMBY movement is that it didn’t start with career housing advocates like me; it started with people looking around their communities, seeing housing problems and asking themselves, What can we do?

The YIMBY movement is important because it asks leaders of high-cost cities to look at the big picture when housing developments, market-rate or affordable, are proposed. It can’t be easy for an elected official to tell her constituents that she’s supporting new development over their objections. But it won’t be any easier to look, a generation from now, at what could have been. If the development trends highlighted by ApartmentList continue, it’s not difficult to imagine a time when companies make expansion and location decisions based in part on the state of the housing market. YIMBY activists could be just the push local elected officials need to go all-in on support for housing development in neighborhoods that need it. 

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