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Jan 18, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

"Of course, this just shows that YIMBYs will ultimately have to overcome a far more potent foe than Left-NIMBYs…namely, Right-NIMBYs."

I actually think that in this particular context, Right-NIMBYs will be a less potent foe than Left-NIMBYs, for the simple reason that Democrats control the local government in nearly all major American cities, and also the state governments of the states most in need of looser building restrictions. On this particular issue, the D vote - population density correlation actually helps for once, because Republican NIMBYs are simply less likely to be in a position of power in the places where it matters.

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Perhaps, but I think there are a lot of people who vote D in national elections who will suddenly discover they're a lot more right-leaning than they thought when it comes time to building an apartment building in their neighborhood!

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Boomer liberals in cities are biggest obstacles and close second is whole engorged real estate industry complex in expensive cities

I think the AOC arc and Robert Reich NIMBY in Berkeley are key examples of shifting politics on housing.

Boomer liberals in cities are biggest obstacle to more housing supply, densification, reduction of public space dedicate to free car storage etc.

I'm old enough to know that housing supply was a non-poltiical issue for most lefties and liberals in most cities for over almost two generations, because we subsidized (via public and private schemes) mass expansion to suburbs and between that and rich and white flight out of cities, and age demographics,.we had depopulating cities and 60s-80s. Cities were cheap, it's where artists went for cheap space and things were run down and rough. Commercial/industrial space in lots of cities was cheap also, so businesses had shops there - something unusual now even in my moderate proced Midwest hometown.

So for decades, there was no political conflict between being left/liberal and being a NIMBY. Housing supply for middle class was not on mainstream political radar

AOC was originally chugging along like most older liberals, lefties thinking private developers should be stopped, car parking should be preserved, etc.

Now politics have shifted because middle class liberals, lefties in in-demand cities are paying high rents, can't afford to buy modest house even with two high flying professional salaries...and all the lack of supply for decades has hit home (after housing bubble/great recession delayed issue) and this lack of supply catches up just modern economies are depopulating rural areas and rushing to cities and as the biggest surge in people, Millennials, are reaching household formation age.

The most liberal places are victims of their own success and the accumulatied results of these bad past policies, and we are just now waking up to it. High housing costs hurts lower income, working class the most, so just by default trends,. rich blue cities are most inequitable.

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In the metropolitan area as a whole, and in the suburbs, Right-NIMBYs may have more clout.

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This sounds right to me. And I think Texas supports this (though I don't know the details well enough to be confindent in that)

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One would've hoped that the Texas state legislature would decide to troll Austin left-NIMBYs with market-urbanist legislation, and it may still shape up that way, but it hasn't been a slam dunk so far.

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

Mr Smith,

Hopefully you read your comments or someone who does communicates this to you. On this topic, there is an aspect from the historical housing response that is not being fully developed to address veterans homelessness & housing crisis, but one after effect of World War II was the housing boom fostered by the GI Bill.

Today, a similar opportunity exists to infill both urban and suburban communities which is veteran fourplexes. The VA allows a veteran to apply their VA Home Loan Mortgage up to a fourplex & in certain combined efforts with another veteran a fiveplex with a commercial space.

Here in Minnesota and also in Wisconsin, I’m having conversations, drafting legislation and advancing the idea that a veteran owned fourplex is a significant answer to not just address veterans homelessness but also equity both short and long-term, because homelessness likely doesn’t foster retirement planning.

Even a homeless veteran with a slight amount of assistance could qualify for a VA loan, because the VA recognizes 75% of the rental income in the credit/debt ratio and lenders can wave the credit score requirement. We are still trying to find a lender wise enough to make this a boilerplate loan system, maybe someone else is reading.

Home equity is the bedrock of our long-term economic stability. This means a veteran with a fourplex generates revenue, and also if applied to the rental picture is a veterans preference in these spaces, the process of helping veterans specifically and the new construction removes the pressures on the general low income housing stock.

Now, this community has a broad political appeal because they are owed a debt of gratitude for life, but the situation for those in need still exists. This is why we are proposing not just a place to live but also a community space for them and their fellow veterans to commune and receive job training, education and skill development.

Finally, there is no reason this concept cannot be extended to a person on welfare if the county providing assistance were to apply the same amount to be provided in the long-term to a person with dependents she could own her own fourplex move from dependency on the system to self-sufficiency become a property taxpayer and build confidence and improved self-worth.

For those who liked the play Hamilton this is an application of Alexander Hamilton’s concept of self-extinguishing debt, which is known worldwide as the American System.

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Dude. As a Veteran. This idea is sort of intriguing.

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Damn. I researched this. It’s true.

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We are a 501 (c)(3) we can build anywhere check out our website http://containedsolutions.org and call me in an hour doing radio shortly 612 364-2829

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I'd add in YIMBY-adjacent victories of parking minimums being removed. Buffalo did it few years back and St. Paul did it last year.

(St. Paul also just voted in sweeping max 3% rent increases (no inflation adjustment) that includes new construction, so there is whole other discussion around that - it's definitely halted almost all new MFH residential development here; nearly started projects lost financing, new interest gone, off to nearby towns)

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I’m in St Paul, and was working with the city prior to the passage of the referendum & also publish MN’s first digital political magazine http://checksandbalances.com

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After we beat the left-NIMBYs, we can just hold our line. Build enough on the coasts and let the mouth breathers have their McMansions in Jesusland

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Here in California, the YIMBY cause has achieved some initial, albeit modest, gains at the state level. The question is whether this bodes well for the future, or instead will inspire a reaction that halts or even reverses progress.

Here's one thing that will determine the outcome: if YIMBYs think that NIMBYs are an implacable opposition that can be steamrollered. Both things are incorrect, and holding those views will serve to halt any further progress.

They can't be steamrollered because single family homeowners are a powerful force, most especially at the local level. (See the excellent book "Neighborhood Defenders" which makes that crystal clear.) And no matter what state laws are passed, here in California or elsewhere, the implementation will be controlled by city councils, local planning commissions and the like, where local citizens can and do make their voices heard. Even now, cities in California are floating proposals that will make the new densification laws toothless (e.g., requiring new multi-family housing -- even fourplexes or less -- to include affordable units, which would be a killer requirement).

But the first point is wrong as well: the NIMBY population is not a monolith nor is it implacably hostile to densification. The loudest ones are, but most SFH owners are pretty quiet, and many would go along with it if it included reasonable adjustments (e.g., smarter policies on parking). After all, in many of these cities, most of these residents lean liberal and are sympathetic to arguments for more equity and fairness.

The YIMBYs *can* win lots of these residents over *if* they're smart. What's a not-smart thing to do? Tell them that single family zoning is racist and that by implication (or worse) these residents are themselves racist -- the accusation that cannot be argued with. Do that, and whatever sympathy they have for the densification cause will disappear. Calling someone racist is the modern scarlet letter, and you use it at your peril. Instead, argue that their kids should be able to get more affordable residences, or that the police officers, firefighters, and teachers who serve them should be able to live nearby and avoid the kind of crushing commutes that they have escaped. There are lots of smart arguments one can make, and smart policies that will make greater density more palatable to those silent citizens.

Above all, don't pontificate inside the YIMBY bubble: everyone else can hear you, so your words matter.

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YIMBYs are already doing the messaging that you suggest; their bumper-sticker pitch is "abundant, affordable housing for everyone". Here's a sample of one of their explainer videos.

https://cayimby.org/video-lets-build-affordable-housing-for-everyone/

In practice, YIMBYs have been happy when people are won over. (See AOC, Matt Haney, or Jesse Arreguin, for example.) But this has rarely happened by making concessions in advance. There's a reason why gentle, polite housing reformers people got roughly nowhere over the last thirty years, and infuriatingly annoying YIMBYs overturned single-family zoning in the last seven.

Maybe I've been burned by going to a lot of public meetings, but the underlying problem really is, for a lot of people, that they're afraid of change and they don't want to lose what's theirs, no matter how ill-gotten. You can only tiptoe around that so much.

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This "left-NIMBY Canon" thing hurts my head when I try to think about it. Building housing will raise rents? What?

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

> Nathan Robinson . . . whining that the word “NIMBY” is a slur.

Okay NIMBY.

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A balanced approach, along the lines suggested by Karkar, seems most likely to succeed. One can’t forget that NIMBY-ism exists in large part because a lot of people, liberal and conservative, rich and middle class, don’t want to live in dense neighborhoods. I know that’s hard for denizens of big cities to believe, but it’s true! You aren’t going to eradicate that sentiment no matter how convincing the public policy argument, and most of us don’t want to have to move to Texas for some elbow-room!

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A “lot of people” want to live in denser areas than they currently do but can’t afford it. Even Manhattan has an under supply of housing compared to demand. We can start with the lower-hanging fruit and accomplish quite a bit.

On top of that, surveys show repeatedly that most Americans have contradictory desires. E.g., they want a big house with a backyard and lots of free parking everywhere but also to be able to walk to grocery stores and their kids’ schools. We haven’t really tried to accommodate the latter desire, and when we do the arrangement seems to be in high demand, so I don’t think it’s fair to say YIMBYism is merely a niche.

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If anything, there is more demand for dense neighborhoods in past, especially because less kids in cities, so couples,.singles without kids often prefer dense neighborhoods over big nice house/yard. But there really isn't a lot of medium dense or dense neighborhoods.

And of course many people want a SFH lots of car parking right in the middle of a lively, walkable neighborhood but can't have it all unless you're very rich. But there aren't a dense options.

Some of what we need to do is make more dense development that is appealing. Some of this planning, building better, dense neighborhoods can really deliver but often takes more than just private developers building a bunch of apartment buildings.

It also takes public investments.that yield return on investment, parks, transit, community centers/libraries, safe streets, bike paths, blue/green iinfrastructure.

And it takes changing culture. NYC and Chicago have long time culture of living in density and liking it, the rest of cities, not so much. But great things can come from density.

Many elderly languish in big SFH that require driving to everything. Meanwhile my parents live a 1960s era 50-unit condoebuilding, a mix of young and old, renters and owners, and they all help each other enormously. And together they do community gardens, outdoor pool, and spare unit to rent for visitors and parties, for cheap cost shared by all units. So much better for everyone there than if in SFHs, including the young parents who get help with their kids .

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I just want it to be legal to build a granny flat in my backyard.

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This is perhaaaaps beside the point, but I'm still very skeptical about YIMBY's and their ability to do good development. I work in Charlotte, where development has SKYROCKETED in the past five years- it's one of the fastest growing regions in the south, and I can look on google maps and see the difference between when they went through the area I work in five years ago (almost no apartments/condos) and now (almost ten apartment buildings built into a very small, dense area of the city). Every time a new development is proposed, it's *just* apartments and a few businesses on the ground floor, there's no mention of parks, small business development- because those rents are very, very expensive- or tree cover protection. Charlotte had one of the best tree covers of any city in the Southeast, if not perhaps the country, and it's very steadily disappearing because these development companies are being allowed to go in and just level them. I think there are real historical, environmental, and quality-of-life concerns there that I haven't seen very many YIMBY's address because they go so hard on development as an inherently good thing instead of a thing that we need to do and do correctly. I just haven't seen people put forth what I think is a very considered idea of 'development' yet, and it's sad because there's so much more we could do than just 'build high density housing,' and I can very easily see that point getting lost in the debates.

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Good urban design requires planning! But if planners are primarily focused on finding excuses not to build things, it defeats the point...

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

I would point out that while of course there can be less than optimal development planning, the history of this debate has been one where every possible concern for the current occupants from noise to parking spaces to the potential introduction of "those people" have been used to either stop or endlessly delay new construction. If you want to see people's idea of considered development, go to a local town meeting on this and listen to how many of dozens of hurdles are brought up that seemingly every process building process has to jump through (and some people might in fact say leads to worse end products due to trying to consider everyone's honest and not-so-honest quality of life concerns). Many U.S. urban hubs are at the point where even large amounts of suboptimal development will probably provide real "quality-of-life" improvements by making rent not impossible to meet. I mean you said it with regards to small business development - the rents are too high for small businesses. Well what's the solution for that? Are we going to institute federally subsidized commercial retail spaces? As much as that's interesting, I'm not sure how likely, politically realistic, or possible to do in the next few years that is. Just as for housing, the one thing that has been repeatedly shown to reduce rents (without the long-term negative effects of rent control) is building more of it. As long as market rents are high, all new construction for businesses will be expensive. The way to fix that is build enough so that the market rate goes down. Then suddenly the same new spaces are no longer as expensive and it enables small businesses to move into these new spaces. While there may be arguments for some sort of specific zoning in a planning process for small businesses, that runs the risk of perpetuating the boondoggle of high prices that we've seen caused by zoning in the housing market. I'm not going to pretend to know much about Charlotte and its tree-cover, but I'd also mention that density may actually increase environmental quality in some situations. I don't think many people think of America's largest cities as the greenest areas in the country, but they are the most environmentally friendly places in the US by emission standards because of the way density and urban transit are used to drastically reduce the emissions from cars and other inefficient processes. I may be out on a limb here since I don't know the literature, but I've heard that there are many cities around the world that have effectively increased environmental quality of life through increasing density in ways that support things such as mass public transportation. And you can always put trees back in! Check out the solar punk futures being lived out in places such as Taipei.

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I'm not saying don't develop, or that the objections you mentioned people bring aren't ultimately pretty dumb, I'm saying I think it's highly unlikely that we're going to get the cool solarpunk development they've been modeling in Taipei (which I would absolutely love to have here) because the idea of development that I see in action is just, 'slap more apartments down' without much thought being given to actual zoning or quality of life problems. The people who live in these buildings are enjoying a great quality of life, there's shopping and activities and public transportation right out their door, but the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in this part of the city right now come out at around $1500/month. Meanwhile, there are section eight projects just down the road and middle to low income housing that's scarce, underfunded, and in bad shape in general, and these places are being given little to no consideration nor are most of them near public transport or any of the cool quality of life stuff we associate with city living. Middle, working, and low income people are being pushed out of the city, which at this point is just about the size of Mecklenberg county, because it is too expensive to live in if you didn't buy your home in the 80's. And I don't think 'more housing' as a blanket approach, at least in the short term, is helping, nor do I think most cities that are growing the way Charlotte is are going to be catching up to demand any time soon. And Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the south, which is seeing massive influxes of people as a whole. More housing will need to be built. Cities need to change, and city planning needs to change, but I don't have faith in current approaches to development because I see it pushing out a lot of people like me, or like the people who live in the predominantly black, working class neighborhood across the interstate from my workplace, which is predominantly single family homes, in favor of catering to the B of A yuppie crowd, instead of the city asking how it can develop the city to be a better, more accessible place to live for everyone who wants to live there, and I'm waiting to see what current YIMBY-ism does. Urban density doesn't inherently mean more, or better, or environmentally friendly development if it's not done with those things in mind, especially when you're taking about a lot of cities in the south or middle America- or even out west- that weren't built with things like public transport or high commuter volumes in mind. This is going to be a long process, and a lot of mistakes will get made- I think at this stage I'm just very worried about seeing it fall victim to inter-left bickering or a lack of pragmatism to go along with the vision, or being hijacked by people with less-than-admirable goals or approaches. Unless YIMBY-ism reimagines what development is, and can be, it's not going to solve these problems.

As for tree cover, that was more meant to illustrate the absolute dearth of development going on right now- Charlotte used to be replete with old-growth oak trees, and they're becoming rarer and rarer because massive amounts of land are getting brought up for your average, expensive, run of the mill apartment. But trees and tree cover *are* important for carbon capture, shade, urban wildlife, water and soil retention, and air quality, and those aren't small things. I wish I remembered the person/project name, but I remember reading about a pilot program in japan to try and use urban forestry to mitigate flood damage that was off to a promising start. That's different from preserving existing tree cover, and is probably more in line with solarpunk urban planning, but it's still something to think about. Basically, we've got a natural resource here that's hard to get back once it's gone, and we've already done a bad job not just preserving it, but incorporating it into our urban planning as a whole and it should be given some consideration.

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This is why Strong Towns is so important. They keep pointing people back to what actually worked, and what people like about the places that have been most in-demand even though we stopped building them.

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Jan 18, 2022·edited Jan 18, 2022

Our urban college campus here in Mpls is obviously centrally planned and ina very small amount of space, is some of the most pleasant urban space we have while being some of densest, pedestrian friendly, car light, most mixed-use land use you can find anywhere in our the metro area. If we could do a series of nodes like this campus over and over again could have super appealing and super efficient (from infrastructure and transportation perspective) dense supply of housing.

So central planning can be good, or bad.

Preserving low density housing everywhere because it's "nice" has a price, and it is the cost of housing for lower income, working class renters or aspiring home buyers gets insanely expensive.

Easy trade off is take least appealing places in cities and inner suburbs near good transit networks and allow/incentivize dense development (lots of these places exist in most towns/cities) and in hot SFH neighborhoods very near denser parts of cities, allow incremental upzoning (4-6 plexes where there once was SFHs etc).

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I'm not talking about preserving low-density housing as a virtue, there are a lot of drawbacks to leaning on single family development- but there are still a lot of low-density working class neighborhoods where people are just hanging on as high density development goes on around them- Clanton Park and Lincoln Heights in Charlotte are a good example, where it's majority working, majority black, families who I don't think would be too happy to give up their homes so a construction outfit can mindlessly put up an apartment and then they have to move and drive 45 minutes to work, which is what I see happening more and more. And there's also the fact that a lot of development going on right now, especially in the south, *is* in the form of single family home developments or McMansions, not in considered, high-density housing, because we've got a lot of land that hasn't been developed that's being bought out. Maybe the YIMBY movement will be the solution, I really hope so, but I'm going to wait and see how it goes. The other thing that has to be considered is that a lot of this development is going to involve overhauls to transportation infrastructure that's massively out of date, and that the 'least appealing places' usually aren't near good transit networks, at least down here. There aren't any good transit networks down here to begin with, they all still have to be built and a lot of the ones that we did have decades ago- mostly cable cars- were ripped out and replaced with bus systems as the only public transit.

I think the campus-like idea is a good one, and one that can probably mesh well with how a lot of smaller areas have grown to create a larger urban area- then maybe instead of saying "We have to develop X city as a whole," it can be broken down into more manageable projects. Either way, zoning and development incentives need to absolutely be retooled for how people are living today- the urban planning of a hundred or even fifty years ago just isn't going to cut it moving forward.

And a lot of what I'm talking about might not necessarily be applicable in other cities- my perspective is very much shaped by growing up in SC/NC and seeing the boom in recent years. It makes my head spin, and I'm not that old.

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You should check out Strong Towns. They've basically solved this problem.

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Yeah, this kind of reminds me of the issues that we had with the old housing projects: They destroyed the entire ground level of a neighborhood just to stack people on top of each other. It doesn't work, because a neighborhood is built out of businesses, not just houses. It's the same reason why suburbs don't work, either.

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Can you go into more detail on the benefits and drawbacks of tree cover?

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I am not an expert by any means but off the top of my head I think it can be good for: carbon capture, air quality, urban wildlife, soil and water retention, shade (good in southern summers and can help reduce heat & air dependency), general quality-of-life stuff (trees tend to make people happy, or at least they make me happy). Also if you're an urban forager you can get a lot of edible stuff off of a lot of different trees, that's pretty cool

The bad: pre-existing trees can definitely restrict your development area/definitely make development more difficult- this is adjacent to the conservation paradox mentioned in Wally Nowinski's article- and it probably also poses some sticky problems related to housing and land value; more trees=more desirable lot=less potential for development. Or if your city chooses to plant the much-maligned bradford pear, which is cheap but notorious for smelling like garbage

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Great overview on contemporary American housing issues and debate!

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Another Noah blogletter about the housing crisis and NIMBYs/YIMBYs, another Noah blogletter that doesn't mention the relevance of low mortgage interest rates (or T-note yields) as a policy lever. I continue to find that a really odd omission, but maybe it's forced by the focus on the YIMBY-versus-NIMBY frame, which directs attention to local government and local politicians in lieu of the mortgage/T-note market.

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It seems unnecessary that this battle would ever be between Left-YIMBYs (of which there are few) and Right-NIMBYs (of which there are many). The geographic overlap between these two is so small. Density is primarily an issue in the city and near suburbs, both of which are monolithically left of center.

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This is angels on a pinhead type argument vs. the real issue: Proposition 13 in California.

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Some encouraging news. Thanks.

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