130 Comments
Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It's good to see lots of YIMBY writing in the NY Times, The Atlantic, WaPo, and other places liberal normies tend to read. Also, I think the crisis of homelessness (and people's frustration) has become so widespread that people suspect something bigger is going on beyond "gentrification."

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I am excited about that too, but... the comments sections on those articles (IDK how representative they are) are always a hundred NIMBY blowback comments for every one supportive comment. The intellectual and political elite may be starting to grok YIMBY messages, but still feels really really early for normies.

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That profile article on the doddering boomer NIMBY was puke inducing, as were the comments.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Sometimes reality creates a better stereotype than fiction.

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The comments section is often not representative of the readership (this Substack excepted, of course). But, yes, still early and the message has to be repeated over and over from different angles. I think we'll be seeing more YIMBY takes that also take a harder line on encampments, but from a left-wing perspective, that will be persuasive.

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Helllll yeah Noah. This is what I’m talking about! This content rocks! YIMBY > NIMBY. But it could use even more depth. Next topics could be:

1. How to win over NIMBYs?

2. What’s in it for them?

We have to empathize, engage and communicate with the NIMBY. Build a majority, develop consensus and work to get something done (somehow). Anything is better than nothing.

Even the smallest victories count.

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Sadly, the only way to win them over is to change the incentive structure. Behind the deluge of rhetoric about "neighborhood character" is a powerful incentive to gerrymander zoning in ways that increase your property values. And there's an easy fix. Tax usage restrictions. Leave people free to join HOAs that require every house to have giant yards and living rooms. Leave them free to prohibit home offices or convenience stores. Leave them free to zone peripheral land as "agricultural" when it is no such thing. ALl that is fine. But they should get a little bump in their property tax for each and every one of those restrictions. Implement that and YIMBYism and all is superficial rhetoric and specious ideology will evaporate like the dew on the grass as the sun rises in the Summer.

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022

I appreciate the constructive approach you adopt above, but as someone who has very strong NIMBY sympathies (at the most visceral level, I just like green things, space, and don't particularly like the built environment and basically view urban living in the way that Scott Alexander described his patients in https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/10/01/steelmanning-the-nimbys/ ("These people’s long-term plan was to use San Francisco as a springboard to gain enough money or career capital to be able to achieve their dream of leaving San Francisco.") (I intend sooner or later to try to draft an apologia for what I think are some of the stronger rational points in the NIMBY arsenal) I think you're probably going to find that it's more effective to treat this as a matter of purely zero-sum politics.

With the (enormous, giant, glaring) grain of salt that I can't claim to speak for the NIMBY side at large, I nevertheless think that for the most part the NIMBYs are aware that the basic tradeoff on offer is an alleged increase in the exchange-value of their houses/land to some market-determined value in return for diminished use-value out of the houses/land (because if they didn't prefer their neighborhood at lower density they wouldn't be NIMBYs in the first place). They're well aware of the tradeoff they face, and they're just not interested.

The best offer you could make them would be to ignore (1) entirely (you can't win them over. Singapore is by all accounts a thriving city, people who dislike density still don't want to live there if they can avoid it), instead see if you could guarantee a reasonable buyout value on (2) that I expect would likely be implausibly high (particularly if dezoning happens en masse and concurrently). Of course, it would be a lot cheaper to just not pay the buyout and try to win by a legislative majority (and this seems far more likely to actually happen, procedurally speaking) so from the NIMBY perspective this is back to looking a lot like a zero-sum fight with the YIMBYs - and in turn that suggests that optimal strategy for the YIMBY side is to just crush the NIMBYs at the ballot box by winning mindshare among the uncommitted instead of trying to convert those who disagree.

TL;DR: it's a nice sentiment but I don't think there *is* a way to (at reasonable and plausible cost.[1]) try to get the NIMBYs on your side. They know what's on offer, and they don't want it. This isn't a mistake-theory problem.

[1] In the limit you could always just buy out the NIMBY houses and either leave them vacant or try to find some way to rent them only to nonvoters, (although IIRC (this is not legal advice) that may well be impossible under the FHA or analogous legislation) so that the electorate gets weighted more heavily towards YIMBYs.

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I think you overestimate the number of left-NIMBYs that are aware of and accept the basic tradeoff involved. You may well be right that it's not worth it to YIMBYs to persuade large portions of the opposition, but I don't get the impression that it's because they all think that this is just the better tradeoff, but rather I think a lot of left-NIMBYs are engaged in some magical thinking.

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I do think some persuasion is possible because the most relevant NIMBYs are those in blue urban areas and tend to be sensitive to blue values of inclusivity and harm reduction.

So if YIMBYs can convince people that blocking development harms young families and minorities (plausibly true?), relevant NIMBYs may be swayed. Or at least be more measured about enforcing their preference for low density.

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I respectfully think that this is unlikely to work for similar reasons that UMC suburbs vote heavily blue but remain UMC suburbs -- even if there' abstract support for inclusivity and harm reduction you're still de facto asking them to bear relatively concentrated harms to themselves for relatively diffuse benefits to (definitionally non-incumbent) others.

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Overall, I'd say it's one of the few issues that is both clearly hugely net positive to utility overall and also has few losers, so I think many can theoretically be convinced. To the extent that there are harms, they tend to be more transitional inconveniences.

Sure, there are some NIMBYs who think: "My family has lived in this house for generations, and my only political priority is to continue doing so in an unchanged neighborhood." However, there are a lot who are simply misinformed, and might be convinced by the true state of affairs.

For example, a lot wrongly think, "Upzoning will ruin my property value." Evidence for this is very limited and, if anything, the status quo of rationed upzoning tends to increase property values, since their land is suddenly ipso facto more useful. For NIMBYs for whom it is a pocketbook issue, this could change minds.

There is another group who wrongly thinks "Upzoning will abolish the leafy, minority-free suburb." If they can be shown that 1) density, by definition, occupies a relatively small area, and rising density in the center means falling density farther out, and 2) increased housing supply means suburban housing with little development appeal will get cheaper, they will realize that their Leave it Beaver dream will actually become more affordable. If upzoning is universal, the impact on many NIMBY suburbs will be minimal to none, simply because there is much higher priority land to develop.

Ironically, the NIMBYs who have most to fear from the abolition of zoning are those whose neighborhoods wouldn't change at all, since it's true that their home values might fall.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 24, 2022

This is very thoughtful but I think runs into trouble with respect to how how (1) and (2) work out in practice (or, for purposes of NIMBY/YIMBY advocacy, how people expect them to work out, but I'm not sure there's a huge disconnect here).

In general with respect to claim (1) " density, by definition, occupies a relatively small area, and rising density in the center means falling density farther out" - Obviously in some important sense is this true (and true under the status quo) inasmuch as you generally have low-density the farther you get from any existing city center, but it seems that there are probably economic-spatial upper bounds on the extent to which it holds. Most obviously, if you could just build a bunch of mile-high towers to replace whatever buildings exist in the already-dense downtowns of major cities, you could probably make everyone happy.

In practice, this doesn't happen and almost by definition zoning reform is about expanding skyscraper-laden downtown-level density ever outward. Combine this with the fact that a lot of existing suburban housing is incredibly expensive even within a fairly large commuting radius (i.e., land values are incredibly high, which in turns suggests a strong price signal that these communities face very high development risks from dezoning) and it's tough to give assurance to voters that they're not going to be the ones holding the bag even if the effects of higher density tend on net to ameliorate expansionary pressures (more on this below).

With respect to (2), the trouble is that low-density zoned suburbs *by the mere fact of their price-increasing and attending exclusionary effects* actually create positive value for would-be buyers that is hurt by increasing density. The obvious corollary is that without zoning you don't get to maintain an equilibrium in which the small negative-entropy oasis is actually sustainable because any increase in desirability attributable to low density suburbia gets arbitraged away by either making the suburb dense or else forcing its location into the middle of nowhere.

More concretely: Scarsdale NY has high property values not only because there's an inadequate supply of houses relative to demand, but because *the inadequate supply housing and attendant socioeconomic price floor in fact makes it a more desirable place to live* -- it's greener, you don't have homeless people around (see Scott Alexander's timely review of San Fransicko today https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-san-fransicko), crime is lower, and, in a pattern repeated across basically every American metro area in the history of ever and hugely contributory to property values, suburban school districts are better than dense urban ones (and observing that this is largely a function of student and parent selection effects seems like it only makes the case for NIMBYism stronger because that's exactly part of the bundle of goods you're buying into in reliance on zoning). In this respect leafy suburbs act kind of like Veblen goods but dezoning reflects a huge arbitrage risk for current and prospective owners -- both of whom can basically only buy (or aspire to buy) the good they want as long as they can rely on its not being arbitraged away by building more housing in areas where low density creates endogenous demand. But that in turn makes it really hard to make a self-interested case for them not voting NIMBY.

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022

Conversely, a glib NIMBY proposal to the core concerns of the YIMBY side with respect to rising housing costs might be "consider stopping having perpetually increasing populations and attendant monotonically increasing housing demand in a world of finite space and resources already facing incredible pressures related to same."

Note that this likely wouldn't actually *work* in the short to medium term (Tokyo is growing while Japan is shrinking because agglomeration effects are very strong) but the point I'm trying to make is that I think most YIMBYs would both (1) fully understand why this was a proposed solution (i.e., there's not a dispute that it's a proposed solution to the problem, albeit only over very long timescales) but (2) nevertheless reject it (even if it were politically plausible) as draconian or growth-negative or for some other reason, leaving zero-sum political competition as the only domain for resolving the issue.

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1. Impossible. Instead we have to take away local decision making rights when it comes to zoning. Issue building permits at the state or federal level and tell cities to focus on cleaning our garbage and maintaining roads like they’re supposed to.

2. If you’re already a wealthy home owner? Nothing. Hence the task is impossible to solve by any means other than taking away hyper local decision power.

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I wish I was on Twitter more to see the name-calling and tortured economic logic this post generated from NIMBYs.

I can see it now:

- “All the studies point to MORE HOUSING creating MORE UNAFFORDABILITY.”

- “Building more housing destroys neighborhoods, so is anti-black, latinX, anti LGBTQ+…”

- “Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias are now straight up FASCISTS”

- “Anyone who is a YIMBY is an idiot”

- “I’m white, but I’m a NIMBY because housing activists like Darrell Owens are all race traitors!”

Well, maybe I don’t need to go on Twitter after all.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

I’ve been telling people that DSA chapters outside SF are relatively sane, but the Peninsula chapter has been tweeting that the YIMBY movement is a CIA op recently, so I guess not. Old people in Burlingame and tankies is a rare alliance, though, and doesn’t need to be opposed since those people don’t have the personalities to do anything but post.

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>but the Peninsula chapter has been tweeting that the YIMBY movement is a CIA op

Uhh wtf did I just read

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

“All wars and activist movements I don’t like are CIA fronts” is totally normal tankie behavior.

We’re also the home of that one leftist podcast whose theme is Epstein was a CIA agent and Qanon had a lot of good ideas when they thought all famous people were baby eating pedophiles. (Both parties hate Sen. Wiener and think he’s an etc etc because he’s gay.)

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>We’re also the home of that one leftist podcast whose theme is Epstein was a CIA agent

Martyrmade? I liked some parts like the origins of Israel and the Romanian experiments, but the host has some insane views.

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>Old people in Burlingame and tankies is a rare alliance

The latter might be the kids of the former who haven't moved out tbh

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founding

Tweet or it didn't happen.

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They deleted it. Kept the reply though.

https://twitter.com/dsa_peninsula/status/1537621608738611200

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founding

That's just Harlo's sense of humor. He isn't serious. I think.

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I've found that a lot of Twitter YIMBYs and NIMBYs have very little understanding on how a multi-family housing project gets built. Having designed affordable housing in several mid-market areas (Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Nashville, New Orleans) and that include both for and non-profit developers.

People act like Cities just bend over for housing developers but the truth is, they don't really. And many of the housing developers I've worked with, hold onto and manage their own properties for the long-term.

I've also witnessed in public meetings (because nearly every permit/planning dept requires public meetings when you're asking for density increases (yes even Cities promote low-density MF). The middle class neighbors protest if you use the words "affordable" in any housing presentation. The lower and working poor neighbors protest if you use the words "market rate" and "affordable" because they see two threats to their property values - a rise in property values or an influx of even poorer people. Yes, America's class warfare has been so successful that the working poor don't even like living next to themselves apparently.

We've gone in to meetings describing quality MF developments as "work force" and then specifically mention housing for teachers, nurses, care-workers, etc. etc, as the market target. And what we've discovered is that new housing begets net positives vs negatives. Especially in depressed and underserved communities w/ blocks of vacant lots and limited services. I've watched an entire neighborhood turn around after we repurposed an old school campus that had been left derelict for 15 years & was a hot spot for crime into 80 affordable units for working artists. The neighbors thanked the development team for turning the school into a new focal point for the community. Vacant lots were suddenly having duplexes built on them, adding more stock. Local businesses saw opportunities. It was a win-win for the community despite pushback from people who claimed the units were going to be for fake artists and just be over-priced apartments because more people who supported the redevelopment came out to support the project.

Housing doesn't have to be complicated. Multifamily is made especially difficult because for the numbers to work developers have to increase density because market competition for lots is so intense. ROIs on MF might be 7-10 yrs. So it's not a quick-flip like some people think. Upzoning and mixed zoning in older, inner-ring suburbs would help ease the pressure by allowing 2-3-4-6 unit projects to happen. Which some call the missing middle. But what people also don't realize is it takes a year plus to build, after you've designed and permitted the project, which can take 6-12 months itself.

Material and labor shortages in construction have lingered for years, well before the Covid crunch and subsequent boom. They've only gotten worse. But if we want to make housing affordable again, we have to build more. For everyone.

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What you describe is also consistent with my experience as a planner in NYC. Yes, developers have political clout - that's probably true everywhere - but it's (obviously!) super expensive and time-consuming to build here and a lot of demands are made on them, some quite absurd and technically outside of the purview of the demanders. And there are plenty of NIMBYs in the city, including Manhattan.

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Yeah, there are definitely those developers who make political contributions and do lots of projects and then you have developers who aren't politically connected trying to get small and medium sized projects through spending tens of thousands of dollars in fees to get a project reviewed and approved to have someone torpedo the project because it doesn't have the right colored brick on it or the cornice isn't decorative enough.

Honestly I think the review process in 95% of the cities could be simplified and streamlined. Especially the planning & design review processes which get bogged down in zoning minutia and the countless overlay districts and revisions to address nitpick comments that have little to do with code compliance or the actual quality of the buildings!

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Additionally they seem to think landlords and developers are the same people and have the same interests...

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NIMBYs seem to believe that housing developers make money hand over fist when in reality even in hot markets it's expensive to develop new housing and there's a ton of risk.

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"People act like Cities just bend over for housing developers" ... I think this is a NIMBY position?

Most YIMBYs who are even semi-read into the movement are very aware of how restrictive zoning codes are and thus how much getting permission to build is a delicate political game that only the most connected + lucky developers manage to win at. I hadn't attended public meetings like the ones you describe but your description fit perfectly with my current mental model of reality (adding housing units banned-by-default, need special permission to build almost always).

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Yea, that's my understanding too. YIMBYs essentially argue that public hearings make up much of the NIMBY mechanism that keeps killing development, and that it happens by way of NIMBYs striking down developments and making processes lengthy/costly.

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Do you mind sharing where the school turned affordable working artist units is? Sounds similar to a project my org may be pursuing and I'd love to learn more about how you pulled it off. (of course, I understand if you don't want to share potentially identifying details)

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robert reich is the perfect example

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It's almost enough to restore your faith in democracy

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Dean Preston is a collection of hashtags in a trenchcoat. YIMBYs just trying to expand the carceral state because a home is merely a prison without guards.

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Elections are coming up in SF. What are the chances that we see a hat trick of voters booting utterly worthless politicians as a follow up to the school board and DA recall? At least booting Peskin, Preston and Walton should give the forces of stupidity a well deserved beating.

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I only know SF politics vicariously through friends in the Bay Area. But there certainly seems to be an appetite for "progressive and competent" instead of just progressive.

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Totally viable, though Peskin terms out next time. This might be why Deano was so mad at the district redraw.

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Do you have any theories on the motivations of the Left-NIMBYs. The best I can tell is they really value time and space intensive activities like gardening. And because there's not a lot of money transacted in these activities they regard them as middle class (despite requiring access to lots of expensive land).

I want there to be a more interesting explanation beyond they are just aestheticists who highly value quaintness... but maybe that's the whole story? Perhaps with nostalgia mixed in as well?

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author

They want their neighborhoods to remain the way they are.

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It's interesting to try to imagine how to construct a society that had neighbourhoods that were guaranteed not to change. What would the sacrifices be? Seems expensive.

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As best I can tell, it’s just straight up an artifact of suburban marketing brochures in the 50’s and 60’s. There’s not much beyond this idea that entire places can be frozen in this perfect amber.

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There’s lots of NIMBY’s in NYC, that has nothing to do with suburbia.

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NYC is where suburbia was invented. What the hell do you think Queens is? Never heard of Levittown?

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Yeah, I just looked it up. I’m not sure what YOU think Queens is, but it’s over 50% denser than Boston, for example. When people think suburbs, Queens is far from what is pictured.

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What does that have to do with landmarking buildings in Manhattan or stopping gentrification in Crown Heights? I’m also going to guess that Queens is much denser than a suburb.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

That's the main thing. They want their neighborhoods to not change. But they aren't willing to pay for it. They want someone else to pay the externalities.

I remember a long time ago a coworker complaining because the plot of land between their house and the forest (i.e. "their view") was being developed by the land owner. The solution seemed pretty simple to me: buy the land yourself, keep it undeveloped, and preserve the view. But that costs money and they wanted it for free.

Same thing is happening right now in a "historic neighborhood" that a friend lives in. A massive parcel of land was some undeveloped military base from the 1920s or whatever. The 20 or 30 houses bordering it got a beautiful expanse of meadow as their backyard. It was eventually sold to some developers. The neighbors are trying to block development but they could have ALSO blocked development by just buying the land themselves. But that costs money and they wanted it for free.

And that's just a super obvious example. What do you do when the local coffee shop is priced out by rising rents or rising wages? Take up a collection from all the local houseowners and give them a subsidy?

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There's also a dynamic in terms of the relationship between affordability and community, especially for working class people and PoCs, where it's perceived that as time passes and cities develop things just get worse and worse. Their institutions (churches, inexpensive restaurants, community centers etc.) depart for fringe neighborhoods or suburbs, rents go way up year after year, friends and neighbors who have known each other for decades scatter. The inexpensive Filipino place you went on Sundays is now a gastropub, etc. If this were happening to me, I'd also be tempted to just stand athwart history yelling STOP.

And here come the YIMBYs who with few exceptions (like Darrell Owens) seem to be nerdy, young white guys, most of them from suburbs. The last time guys like that said they knew what ailed the cities, we got highways and urban renewal that more or less destroyed most American cities as such. These communities need assurance that new developments won't ruin them like last time.

This is a strain of NIMBYism I'm sympathetic to, unlike suburban homeowners or people looking for clout in the Cool Kids Activists Club.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

They use leftist language because everyone in SF does that no matter what their positions are.

Some (posters) just want to oppose centrist nerds, and centrist nerds are YIMBY because it’s become the boring and obviously correct position.

Some (boomers) are just leftover hippies who read The Population Bomb and believe we need to cover the earth in suburbs to save it from other people’s children.

And some (low information people) believe building “luxury apartments” attracts rich people and “single family homes” don’t - because they assume rich people are tech/finance bros who don’t have kids or plan to start families.

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Don't forget asthetics. Many of them think they're above the rest of the grubby proles with "problematic views" because they don't have to work to survive and that the amenities of cities should be reserved for their designated victims and those they deem cool. That, and the general economic illiteracy and protest disorder that animates that side of the spectrum.

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Also "traffic and schools..."

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Seems to be more a right-NIMBY thing. Try getting a parcel upzoned in Livonia MI and see what happens.

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Detroit-area NIMBY-ism is insane, just have two unrelated households sharing a wall and they'll get into a moral panic. Ya got homeowners unironically using "ne'er do wells" to describe renters

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Fair enough, I don't doubt this is true in Livonia! But left-NIMBYs I know in the DC area tend to co-opt a lot of right-NIMBY arguments to bolster their anti-housing list of grievances...

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I mean it's true for any suburb of Detroit. Hell, even Southfield has these arguments. I suspect it's similar for other suburbs as well.

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Yeah, non-posh suburbs like Livonia and Southfield (no judgement, I'm from an even less-posh Detroit burb) are very conservative places. The NIMBY spectrum, in my experience, accommodates a range of political views, depending on the overall orientation of the place, often with substantial cross-pollination.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It is mainly a pecuniary interest. The lower the supply of local housing, the faster their property values will go up.

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Studying Nextdoor suggests they actually just do hate 2-story buildings, the possibility of traffic, the possibility of someone parking in front of your house, shadows and so on. (They’re less NIMBY and more BANANA there.)

Property values on your primary house are hard to use; it sounds nice but if everything rises equally, you don’t have any more buying power, and then how will you retire to Hawaii?

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founding

If all your economic wealth was tied up in an immobile asset then you would become reactionary too.

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Those are all additional reasons.

Well, if you restrict new supply enough, housing prices will rise faster than inflation. That's what we're seeing in many big cities.

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The issue is, it has to rise faster than the price of the next house you want to buy. That may actually be happening in California if you don’t mind leaving it, but people here really seem determined to die in their house. That way Prop 13 (until recently) meant their kids didn’t get a tax increase and you get to start a feudal lordship.

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Property value in your home can be used for tax-advantaged HELOCs, cash-out refi, potentially loan collateral for other real estate, and in states with Prop 13-like tax assessment freezes, it doesn’t cost you anything. You can sell when your kids leave or you retire or you just feel like it and cash out a large, tax-advantaged windfall.

I think this is all bad policy but the paid and appreciated equity in one’s home is AFAIK most people’s largest source of retirement savings in the US.

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This is consistently demonstrated to be false. Regions with more development have housing units fall in value while properties increase in value.

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Only in the aggregate. Any individual house owner would prefer that their city and region developed, but they all want to avoid negative externalities like traffic or blocked views. So nobody wants their neighboring property to be developed, but they want the property 500ft down the road to be developed.

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I think a lot of progressive people are more progressive when it happens somewhere else, at a remove. That's just human nature, really. People act differently when something directly affects them, regardless of their political ideology. And a lot of people are fundamentally more conservative than they'd like to admit. After all, feeling nostalgia for the movie or book or TV show of your childhood is really the same thing that underlies conservative preferences. Move to a completely foreign country and see how many things from "back home" you crave.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Small-c conservatism.

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I think they actually really believe what they’re saying. They know developers are profit-seekers so they are suspicious of anything that isn’t actively mean to developers, and they like the way their neighborhood is so they are suspicious of anything that will change it. They know cognitively that their politics are left, so they come up with whatever left-sounding reasons they can for why they need to punish developers and prevent a change in the buildings in their neighborhood, and ignore anything that makes it clear that the people will change faster than the buildings if you don’t do something to accommodate the people that are still there.

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In the Midwest it's a bit of a different dynamic. Since land is relatively plentiful, building happens where it is easy - farmland. The pushback against developers is couched in a concern for loss of farmland. But then the same folks like wide open spaces, so when development happens they insist on > 1 acre lots and buffer zones. Lots of cognitive compartmentalization.

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Let me hazard a guess that they are also whining about $5 gas.

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Of course, and they like their corn biofuel subsidies as well

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This is, I think, what differentiates left-NIMBYs from garden-variety NIMBYs: They hate people who work in tech (or finance or white-shoe law firms or whatever). They want a city that's whimsical and bohemian, full of artists and teachers and nonprofit workers, that doesn't make them look at anyone they view as cringe or "conformist" (for a given specific definition of conformity).

SF has a street artist who goes by "fnnch" who oversaturated the city with big murals and decals of those bear-shaped honey jars, with various modifications on the basic theme. He's pretty popular and established and also didn't grow up here, and so artists who are less established often haaaaaaate this guy. And because "this doesn't speak to me and I'm sick of seeing it everywhere" isn't enough to rationally justify despising someone anymore, they're up in arms about his art representing "gentrification" (without providing any evidence as to the demographics of who likes his stuff).

tl;dr it's hipster snobbishness repurposed as politics

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That's how you know someone's politics is 100% about vibes and nothing else. They say it "represents" gentrification - they don't even pretend to say it actually causes it. It's so clear that it's the *idea* of someone or something that they hate.

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022

As Noah said, they like things how they are, or at least don’t want specific things to change in ways that are likely with increased density and new construction. Traffic, parking, construction noise, view blocking, bond measures to support larger (more likely just “not-shrinking”) schools, a not-actually-incorrect belief that lower-income neighbors are more likely to have obnoxious habits, having culturally-similar neighbors, architectural preservation, not having neighbors looking into your back yard, protection against “urban decay” as experienced in the 50s-70s…

These all have some basis in reality and most of them are understandable or even sympathetic. Similar arguments are sometimes just cover for racism or classism, but not always by any means.

But you know, so what. In the end people need houses and allowing neighborhood-level vetoes just concentrates those effects on the places that don’t have them. That’s why I think the statewide rules have had more success than local efforts. I genuinely don’t want my neighborhood to be forced to accommodate all the population growth in the region, but a fair share? No problem.

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Excellent, balanced comment. Covers some issues that YIMBY maximalists need to think about and consider.

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I asked this very question once, and one plausible response I registered is the intuition that nobody should under any circumstances be driven from their homes. It's sort of an anti-colonial sentiment. So left-NIMBYs will take great offense to the notion of an individual being "priced out" of a neighborhood.

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bring full house living in SF

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Left-NIMBYism is increasingly less mysterious to me. What you've said towards the end of your article gets us most of the way there: YIMBYs don't care about process, they care about results. Even the anti-capitalist YIMBYs are willing to put aside their reservations to address the urgency of the crisis.

But once you're deeply bought in on the idea that capitalism is incurably evil, anything which works to stabilize our current institutions - including the prevention of deep, deep suffering - just helps the evil to stick around longer. We need to stop putting bandaids on the capitalist system with legislation, and let it run its evil course so that everyone else can see how bad it is and let it go. If you try to fix the problems of capitalism with more capitalism, you're going to create worse problems down the line and we'll all have been stuck in the capitalist hellhole a while longer while we tried to avoid the growing pains necessary to bring about a Marxist revolution. When you're really, really bought in on Marxism or whatever the utopian equivalent is, the emotional pain of watching this glimmer of hope - the recognition of capitalism's getting us into this housing crisis - get stamped out would predictably lead to huge Twitter meltdowns.

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That's some fucked-up mix of the Frankfurt School on ideology with accelerationism. Read Vivek Chibber: ideology isn't what stabilizes capitalism. The class structure itself is. Capitalism naturally atomizes the collective working class into individual workers, so when they want to improve their lives they employ capitalist solutions - get a better job, move to a better house, invest in a better retirement plan - which then reinforce capitalism. Class-struggle social democracy has a much better chance of actually working then expecting capitalism to just unconsciously do the work of class-formation for us and then have some stuck-up vanguard come in at the moment of crisis and seize the reins.

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It's called "heightening the contradictions" and it's never ended well.

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I grew up in predominantly multi-family government-funded housing AND worked for a multi-family corporate developer, manager/housing owner. I have professional experience in tax credit/section 42 section 8 and market rent multi-family housing.

Personally, multi-family government-subsidized housing provided my family and me a nice place to live and a better school district than we would have been able to afford. However, I find myself torn between these two movements and can understand both sides and am more concerned with the lasting repercussions of both movements if taken to the extremes.

It appears as if most YIMBYS are empathetic and genuinely want to help disadvantaged people have access to housing in urban areas. For this, I applaud them. However, YIMBYS are advocating for a short-term solution that has the potential to seriously impact the low-income people they are most concerned with helping. For instance, I think it is imperative and careless not to consider the motivations of the lower-income constituents that YIMBYS want to help. Most families or individuals in multi-family housing (especially government-subsidized) would love to and actively aspire to be homeowners one day. This really shouldn’t be shocking, considering there are few long-term financial benefits to renting. Renting has zero impact on one’s credit score, making it no easier to be approved for a loan despite years of paying your rent on time. The same input that NIMBYS are exercising over their communities is something most lower-income renters would love to have. Renters and landlords do not have the same motivations or priorities because multi-family is still a BUSINESS and like most businesses they prioritize their bottom line. Just because a property is government-subsidized does not mean it’s non-profit. Many corporations own and invest in government-funded housing and make a killing (most of the time profits are larger than market rent properties because of the tax breaks.) I see nothing wrong with building more affordable housing as it is desperately needed, whether market rent or government-subsidized. Still, neither housing options make home ownership more obtainable for their residents. Poor people don’t just want a roof over their head; they strive to have the same things that wealthier families have, a community where they have input and an investment that they can one day own and pass down to their children or other beneficiaries of their choosing. YIMBYS can advocate for more housing development but should be aware that renting is simply a crutch-not a solution or even a stepping stone for low-income residents. If and when low-income residents become homeowners, they too will want to have input in their communities and their voices heard. Their input may or may not be similar to that of NIMBYs, but that is something we will never know if their hard-earned money continues to go towards rent instead of home ownership.

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There's no dichotomy between multifamily housing and homeownership. The YIMBY future would be one with an abundance of condos, which as James mentions would sell for little more than their cost to build.

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When I say multi-family I was speaking specifically of apartment homes for rent not condos or townhouses.

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That's basically an accounting distinction. An apartment building can go through condo conversion and a condo can be offered for rent. If we get the proportions wrong or the situation changes later, that can be fixed with bureaucratic incantations and paper. The constraining problem today is that the physical world does not contain nearly enough physical housing units (at the locations where they're desired); this fundamental scarcity screws over any kind of allocation or economic scheme you might invent, and is also fundamentally slow and expensive to change. So we better get started now. If in the future we find there are enough units but they need to be shuffled around between rental, ownership, subsidized, and public ownership models, even combined or subdivided, YIMBYism will have substantially won the war; those are much easier problems to solve.

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Yes, you are are correct you can change affordable apartments to condos (depending on the zoning) but chances are the tenants inhabiting the apartments are going to be displaced because they will not be able to afford or qualify for a home loan (like my mother.)

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Yes, but in case they are serving people who can't get home loans, it's good that they're rentals and not for sale.

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If YIMBY policies were taken to the extreme, housing costs would converge to the cost of construction (and that cost of construction would be systematically lowered by being friendly to factory-built homes and thoroughly purging regulations not needed for safety+health purposes), which would probably get us to a world where a new-built unit of housing of 1,000 sq. ft. cost on order of $100,000 to buy, with smaller options of 500 sq. ft. available for even less.

At that price point, low income families would probably be able to get onto the property ladder if they could save up a down-payment of $10,000, which would also become more viable since the cost of renting would have also fallen, allowing plentiful housing option near jobs that allowed a worker to pay less than 30% of minimum-wage income to rent.

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I was referring specifically to multi family housing in densely populated urban areas where housing is almost always in high demand.

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Yes, and? You can be a homeowner if you own one home in a multi-family housing complex (small-scale version of a condo + HOA board).

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I’m speaking specifically of multi family apartment homes for renting, sorry I wasn’t more specific.

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Right; under the current regulatory status quo it makes sense that most multi-family apartment homes are for renting, and that many (most?) of those are publicly subsidized.

In a YIMBYism-taken-to-the-extreme world, the ecosystem of building multi-family apartment homes would be much larger and quite different.

Can you explain why you are "more concerned with the lasting repercussions of both movements if taken to the extremes" with regards to YIMBYism-taken-to-the-extreme?

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My most significant concern has little to do with the economics and more to do with the quality of life/the ability of homeowners in any given residential area to have an input on what they want their neighborhood to be like. For instance, imagine that the shoe is on the other foot and the people opposing the new residential units were working-class or lower-income homeowners-wouldn’t we call that gentrification? My concern is that when working-class/lower-income citizens purchase homes, they are not steamrolled as they have been in the past and can have the same input that the NIMBYS are currently exercising, whether it be that they want more natural light, green space, or not nearly as much traffic, etc. Regardless if we agree with their opposition or understand them, I would hope that lower-income constituents are treated similarly in the future and can have their voices heard as well.

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Are there any other issues that have avoided the partisan sorting of American politics, where people work on it together despite not being aligned on other political issues? Seems rare nowadays, used to be way more common – or is that just an illusion of looking at the past?

Following on from that – do the Left-NIMBYs hate the YIMBYs so much precisely because they don't let themselves get sucked into the everything-is-everything homogenisation of other left organisations?

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I think that last question is correct: having an ally who is not on the left is seen as being intrinsically suspicious by a whole swathe of the left.

There is a reasonable argument that you have to keep fascists out of your movement because they will drive everyone else out and turn your movement into a fascist movement. There are parts of the left that have a massively broad definition of fascism (ie anyone who isn't a leftist, so Buttigieg is a fascist) and apply this argument to that massively broad definition. Therefore, the fact that there are some non-leftist YIMBYs and leftist YIMBYs do not exclude them from their movement or organisations (whereas left-NIMBYs do not work with right-NIMBYs) means, to them, that YIMBYism is tainted by fascism.

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One big perceptual problem was that there was a big move to suburbia in the 1960s and 1970s followed by an urban revival in the 1980s and 1990s. What one saw was more expensive housing in urban areas displacing lower cost housing or manufacturing. NYC, for example, is now full of neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side that were once low cost options but are now higher end and where their original inhabitants were pushed out by rising rents. Telegraph Hill in San Francisco was once housing for blue collar dock workers into the 1950s. Back then, Silicon Valley was farmland, not suburban.

Meanwhile, there was a construction boom but the only place where this resulted in lower cost housing seemed to be the exurbs as even the suburbs became more expensive. You can argue that this means that there was too little urban construction as opposed to exurban construction, but brownfield construction is almost always going to be more expensive than greenfield construction. Also, the government was willing to build or upgrade roads, but not mass transit. Transportation patterns gave a big advantage to urban areas located inland on relatively flat plains, not traditional port cities with good harbors.

Look at contemporary Seattle. They have built tens of thousands of apartments and condominiums in the last ten years. South Lake Union was full of car lots, light manufacturing and other low value uses. It is now full of high rise apartment and office buildings. That's massive new supply. Is it cheaper than ever to live in Seattle now? No. It is almost certainly cheaper than it would have been without all that construction, but Seattle was much cheaper 20 years ago. Nearby Capital Hill used to be full of modestly priced housing options. It too has seen prices rise and residents replaced. They have rainbow painted crosswalks in memory of the refugee gay community now refugees elsewhere.

I'm sure there are places where new building has kept housing prices down. The Midwest is full of places that are more or less willing to give away housing, but this isn't about new construction. The problem is finding housing somewhere where one can also get a job to pay for it. I would love to see more housing built, more upzoning and more mass transit. Seattle is working on this by up-zoning as it builds out its light rail system. I seriously doubt we'll see rents and prices moving downhill despite this.

I grew up in a neighborhood that actually did move from upmarket to middle class housing. Jackson Heights was originally developed for movie stars working in Astoria, complete with a country club, luxury ten room apartments and a high end shopping street. By the time I was born, it was middle class. It moved further downmarket in the 1970s. By the 1980s, we couldn't sell my late father's apartment. Now it is middle class again. I'm not sure where the lower end people live.

P.S. That subway elevator story is hilarious. FYI, 69th Street just off of Lexington was where the titans of industry had their townhouses starting around the 1930s. The head of US Steel hammered out major deals on that street. A lot of the US economy was directed from that block. The story in NYC is that the Upper East Side is the right wing part of the city and the Upper West Side is the left wing. There used to be a good, if you like that kind of thing, indie right wing bookstore not far from that disputed elevator. This being NYC, it's hard to tell if this is left wing or right wing NIMBYism. I think it's just New Yorkers being pain in the ass New Yorkers. It's a city where everyone is required to have an opinion. It can be exhausting sometimes.

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Oops, I just checked. I was off by a block. That street was East 70th, one block north. Odds are the more discreet power brokers, the ones that were never heard of, lived on 69th. There's an old saying among that group, one should be in the newspapers three times in one's life, when one is born, when one is married and when one dies.

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Heading a steel company would be considered declasse.

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The craziest thing about it to me is how most people who think they are left-NIMBYs tend to concede the whole issue without even thinking about it - saying "sure, sure, upzone and build market rate housing, I don't care" and then claiming the real problem with YIMBYs is their supposed opposition to rent control and other tenant protections. They can't believe that something as banal as building regulations is the core issue the conflict is being fought over.

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Hey Noah, you've lived in Japan and there the housing prices aren't as horrible (though I've heard differently about Tokyo). House prices don't really go up there so it's not treated as an investment. What lessons can the USA incorporate, knowing stuff like national land use regulations and the regular rebuilding of structures probably won't take root here?

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What can be done to turn housing into a place where you live instead of a piggybank/credit card/retirement plan?

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Look at Chicago. They certainly have local governance problems, but it really isn't of the NIMBY sort near as much as other places. And even their nice areas have seen only tepid increases in housing costs.

Of course, property taxes there are very high. Less ideal of an investment... since de facto heavy wealth tax. And the weather is terrible 7 months of the year. But huge difference in willingness to build because labor unions there are far stronger than NIMBYs, so the local political machine is far more attuned to solving for union jobs over retired boomers complaining about parking.

My 1 BR in a super nice building rents for today about 5% over what it rented for 8 years ago when I moved to the west coast.

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If that's true then it's a depressing lesson: allow a corrupt machine to run the show or NIMBYs. Japan seems to have neither and I'd like Noah's take on it.

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For one thing, Japan has zoning but it is regulated nationally. IIRC there are only a dozen zoning categories that cities can legally enforce, as opposed to the innumerable number of zones and special districts that Western countries tend to have.

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