Linky Friday: NIMBY This, YIMBY That


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Housing can be affordable or it can be a tool for equity/savings/retirement funds. It can’t be both. The big problem in the United States is that to solve the affordability problem, you will need to slash the equity/savings of a generation or two (maybe 2.5) Americans and that will not be pretty.

    What is also clear is that a lot of boomers are clearly willing to sell out their kids and grandkids in order to save their housing costs/way of life. Livermore is an exurb of about 90K, 46 miles outside of SF. The area is primarily known for being the home of some ranches, some wineries, the Lawrence Livermore labs, and now luxury outlet stores. In March, I went to a wine release event there and saw an an anti-housing protest in the small town square. All the protestors were all in their mid-60s and older and they were really angry and livid looking. Shaking with rage livid. All their signs said stuff like “build parking, not housing.” All I could think of was that these protestors were about the age of my parents and possibly had kids about my age who might be looking for a house but can’t find one because despite good income, Bay Area housing prices are insane. All I could think of is “why are you selling out your children?”

    But it seems like they will do so gladly to keep their housing values up.

    On LGM one of the commentators predicted that the next housing crisis is going to be when millennials spend a lifetime working without being able to buy a home and get kicked out of apartments in old age.

    There is a hot book on inequality in Singapore right now. I saw it in a bookshop. My girlfriend’s friends knew of the book and said that inequality here was a big topic like everywhere else in the world. The meritocratic promise that earlier generations of Singaporeans understood is not around anymore. Yet inequality seems to be a thing that everyone agrees is a problem but no one wants to leave their ideological priors to fix. It seems to be the area where ideological priors remain the most rooted. Your links would show a complicated picture: Building helps but gentrification is also very real especially when it comes to areas with bougie amenities displacing original residents. But no one wants to come up with a solution that incorporates left and right remedies because reasons.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      You don’t have to slash the savings, but you do need to give people a way out.Report

    • Another reason for buying rather than renting that doesn’t quite fit the equity/savings/retirement box is control of the monthly payment: rent can go up and down (places where I’ve lived, almost always up), but a fixed-rate fixed-term mortgage payment never changes. And then goes away, leaving property taxes and maintenance.

      When I lost my long-term employment at an inconvenient age (was finally on the wrong side of a corporate acquisition), being down to taxes and maintenance meant more options were available to me than for my colleagues of a similar age with a mortgage or rent payment.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Housing can be affordable or it can be a tool for equity/savings/retirement funds. It can’t be both.

      Well it can, but only in the sense that it can be a standard investment where you buy a property, rent it out and make a sufficient return off the cash flows to justify the investment. I do agree that the present model of permanent, explosive price growth cannot be reconciled with housing affordability.

      The big problem in the United States is that to solve the affordability problem, you will need to slash the equity/savings of a generation or two (maybe 2.5) Americans and that will not be pretty.

      Adam Smith talks about this in the Wealth of Nations – a bad policy inflicts two harms, the initial harm of the policy itself and the indirect harm caused by fixing it later on. I’m not sure exactly what to do about it, since the amount of money required to compensate present home owners would be massive, but without compensation any kind of housing reform is going to be very difficult without compensating a bloc a politically powerful as home owners are.

      All I could think of is “why are you selling out your children?”

      The pernicious part of this is that they probably aren’t selling out their children. Wealthy homeowners can afford to guarantee the loans of their children, and when those elderly protesters die their children will inherit their very valuable land. What they’re actually doing is selling out everyone else’s kids for their own gain.

      This ties into to your point about inequality. Outside the US there hasn’t been any real change in income inequality in developed countries since the early ’90s. What has increased in wealth inequality. And the data we have suggests that housing is a critical part of that inequality.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James K says:

        I did not notice it when I was growing up in New York but it does seem relatively common for their to be houses in SF that get passed down generation to generation. A lot of the houses on the market often say that they were owned and occupied by the same family for two or three generations. These homes were often considered modest when originally built.

        The other type of house that is on the market is sellers are retirees looking to move elsewhere or people that died and now the kids are selling. You see lots of houses that were occupied for 50-60 years and then the owner died. In one extreme case, I saw a house that was occupied by a woman who inherited it from her mom and died. The woman was born in 1925 and died in 2017. She never married and never had kids. Probate found the closest things to blood-relatives that they could find and gave them the property.

        A lot of these houses had very few updates/design improvements since their original construction and are often close to tear downs. The one update might be one of those tubs for old people with standing issues. A while ago people thought nothing of overbidding on these properties. Now people are more hesitant of these properties that need massive amounts of work. Houses in good shape can still go for over asking though.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to James K says:

        I could see some kind of reverse mortgage scheme helping out in some places.

        Say you’ve got an area that is ripe for higher density development. The government (or a holding company, or something) could back a series of reverse mortgages for the retirees in the area, and take possession as the retirees moved into assisted living or died. Once a large enough block was owned, the rest could be bought out and the area turned over for redevelopment.

        Of course, first you have to break the idea that a primary residence is a savings vehicle.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    LF1: NIMBYs do a bit of good for once. Elon Musk is doing some cool things but generally techie solutions to urban transit are dumb. Ride shares might be nicer than most transit from a comfort point of view but they are just as inefficient as millions of people driving around in cars with one or two passengers at most. What is needed is more frequent busses along with light rail and heavy rail if appropriate. They have greater carrying capacity.

    LF8: New York never really had a NIMBY movement like the West Coast does. The sort of counter-culture hippie but really acting in their self-interest is not part of the local political scene. New York politics also provides fewer avenues for NIMBYism to flex their muscles. You can’t freeze new buildings with lawsuits like you can in California, nor do developments have to get approved by local referendum as LF6 demonstrates. Finally, real estate development is big business in NYC and the government is not going to allow a bunch of self-interested activists to interfere with that.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I dunno, New York certainly has its anti-housing plagues like Rent Control that isn’t as pervasive in the west but there’s plenty of NIMBYs too. Those brownstones in New York don’t stay in place because they’re the most effective land use.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        Rent control is practically a dead letter. It is irrelevant for most current New Yorkers. Many of the brown stones have been converted to apartments. They might be more inefficient than other land uses but they are lived in. You don’t have massive protests against new buildings like you do out west. Williamsburg and other areas have condos go up.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Rent control exists and isn’t being repealed so it’s very much a present issue even if it isn’t being expanded and new construction buildings are carefully planned to not fall under its rubric. The stifling effect is still present. Also new construction is still pretty strenuously opposed, for instance:

          But, of course, it’s harder to oppose in the east than the west as a practical matter because you can’t just sue over environmental impacts.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

        I thought the academic information on rent stablization was more complicated:

        Weighing those results, Pastor says, is where the disagreements emerge. A housing advocate’s “stability” is an economist’s misallocation of resources, as regulation entrenches mismatches between apartments and renters (big families in small apartments, small families in big apartments, people not living where they otherwise would). But stability is also a primary focus of housing policy, prompted by work, like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, that shows the devastating effects of housing uncertainty.

        The gist of it is that with something as fundamental as housing, up-or-down value judgments always incorporate controversial choices about what matters, and how much. Academic defenders of rent regulation, it should be noted, don’t believe the policy is a solution to the affordability crisis in California—that ultimately requires increasing the housing stock across the board—but one tool that can forestall the displacement of residents from their neighborhoods.


        • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The article basically consists of a study where the authors point out that rent control could guard again the oh so terrifying specter of gentrification and a couple other studies that find that rent control privledges existing tenants and fishes new tenants sideways (what a surprise) then ends by handwaving furiously and saying “but who cares because rent control is politically popular because established renters love free stuff and new/potential renters can’t vote so fish em.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          North is correct, a bunch of hand-waving does not constitute a valid counter-argument to a body of academic work.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    LF7: I don’t agree with this letter to the editor at all but it accurately reflects the issues in dealing with the housing problem. Politics creates strange bed fellows. The NIMBY coalition is strong because it consists of well-educated home owners that are able to pull of a hippie anti-development pose and poor people who are rather suspicious of YIMBY arguments and don’t want well-educated high earning people transforming their neighborhoods.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Yeah the old landed rich provide money and organization, the poor and minority patsies provide bodies and a sympathetic cause.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North says:

        Most of the wealthy NIMBYs purchased their homes during the 1960s or 70s during the low ebb of American urbanism. 80s at latest. That isn’t exactly old land.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

          They’re old in terms of chronological age, rather than generational. They’re elderly, present land owning NIMBY’s using young poor minorities as their photogenic rubes.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to North says:

        Looks like a textbook example of a Baptist-Bootlegger coalition to me.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James K says:

          Sort of. I think it is a matter of different generations having different priorities. The anti-developer spirit was a real need in the late 1960s through 1970s because the developers were going after a lot of beautiful wildlife areas without concern. Plus there was also housing to be had for cheap back then and it did not seem like much of a concern.

          I can also see why lower-income residents feel displaced because there concerns are for stability and that still seems missing from all the discussions. You do have a group of largely white, largely upper-middle class educated wonks discussing what will help make housing more affordable and it could be read as “what will make housing more affordable for other largely white, upper-middle class educated professionals who used to be able to buy homes but now cannot.” It doesn’t really feature concerns for working-class minorities who were often excluded from home ownership in the first place and often face the most-hardball tactics from the most amoral landlords. These are the people who are likely to be evicted by landlords to sell their properties to developers if upzoning is allowed. They will just be displaced without compensation or remedy. There is a concern for stability but this seems like an unconcern to the wonk set.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            For it to be a Baptist-Bootlegger coalition there has to be a group of people supporting the policy for an honest and socially-acceptable reason, those are the Baptists.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to James K says:

              Yeah exactly. The wealthy older home owners support NIMBYism for brutally selfish reasons; they want their property values to only increase; they want less traffic; they want fewer people crowding their stores and public venues; they want less change; they want fewer newcomers.
              The poor and minority folks who support NIMBYism have much more photogenic albeit rather economically false reasons for being NIMBY’s; they think new housing isn’t going to help their housing costs; they think new construction will displace their neighborhoods, they want to be able to live affordably in dense expensive urban areas.

              If the old home owners campaigned on their real reasons they’d lose in a route. So instead they ally with photogenic sympathetic minorities and use them to get what they want. The outcomes deliver what the wealthy land owners want and screws the poor and minorities. This is just the same as how the bootleggers would ally with the Baptists. The Bootleggers wanted expense hooch to make them rich; the Baptists wanted a virtue filled-booze free society. Only the bootleggers got what they wanted.Report