Commentary: Common Cause between YIMBYs and Leftists?

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

It was an article that caught my attention in part because it mirrors my transformation on  this issue.  A decade ago like many on the left, I saw housing and the protection of open space, primarily as an environmental issue within a framework of preserving and protecting the natural environment.

But I remember having a conversation with someone who suggested I look at housing more as a social justice and racial equity issue.  The more I looked at the issues, the more it completely transformed my thinking.

The Huffington Post in article on Monday noted, “YIMBYs and leftists have conflicting visions for addressing affordable housing. But a growing number of them are finding common ground.”

The article situates a battle between the YIMBY movement and the more left-leaning or even left-wing tenants rights’ advocates.

“Amid growing concern over the lack of affordable housing in major U.S. metropolitan areas, a movement of college-educated young professionals has arisen to challenge local resistance to liberalizing zoning laws that prevent the construction of more housing,” the article notes.  The YIMBY movement has emerged in “direct response to the anti-development, not-in-my-backyard, or NIMBY, movement it seeks to defeat.”

However, it also notes that traditionally the YIMBY’s have “butted up against another ascendant faction in big-city politics: left-wing tenants rights’ advocates.  These leftists, and the working-class renters with whom they align, are generally skeptical of YIMBYs’ market-driven approach to addressing the housing crisis.”

Indeed, YIMBYs have “treated leftists as starry-eyed idealists who ignore supply and demand dynamics.”

The result: “the two sides have sometimes had to fight a multi-front war, struggling against their rival housing reformers, as well as the entrenched special interests opposed to reform of any kind.”

One example, the YIMBYs in New York, endorsed a “good cause” eviction legislation in early January.

“The state-level bill that has become a top priority for New York’s activist left would, among other things, limit the size of rent increases in unregulated apartments,” the article notes.

“We don’t want to subscribe to a scarcity mindset,” Annemarie Gray, executive director of Open New York, the state’s leading YIMBY group, told HuffPost in a recent interview. “We think that we should be able to pass tenant protections and policies to increase supply. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

At the same time, leftists, many of who have opposed zoning deruglations, “have begun softening toward the YIMBY movement.”

These acitvits and lawmakers, including democratic socialists, “agree with YIMBYs that the housing supply must increase, and that lifting restrictive zoning is part of the solution, especially in affluent communities.”

Further, “leftists have suspended their opposition to private real estate development projects that they do not consider ideal because the alternative would simply be worse.”

Locally we are starting to see an interesting debate.  While there are some who simply deny there is a problem, polling shows about 70 percent of community members believe that housing affordability is a huge problem in Davis.

What to do about the problem is an important source of the local political divide.  There are those who argue we primarily need to solve it through subsidized housing and others who believe that while affordable housing important, the only way to get affordable housing is through market rate housing.

The Post article notes that while there is “little debate that the United States is facing a housing affordability crisis,” the solution is more contested.

A renter is considered “rent-burdened” if they spend 30% of their income or more on rent.  That is now the median American wage earner.  The situation is far worse in most cities.

“Why is it that our most ostensibly liberal metropolitan areas are unaffordable for most Americans to live in?” asked Jacob Anbinder, a historian who is completing a doctoral thesis at Harvard University that seeks to answer that very question.

The YIMBY answer to that is “a mismatch between supply and demand.”  Or to put it another way, “The very same liberal metropolitan areas that are magnets for job seekers have some of the most restrictive zoning rules, which either severely limit or outright prohibit the construction of new housing.”

Thus San Francisco and New York, which have among the highest rents in the nation, are the first and second most restrictive places in the nation to build new housing.

The left however, tells a different story.  “They note that the federal government stopped seriously investing in public housing decades ago, allowing it to both deteriorate in quality and stagnate in number relative to growing need,” the Post notes.

This is the affordable housing argument.

Basically they argue “market-rate housing has virtually never met the needs of major cities’ poorest and most vulnerable residents.”

“Zoning is a barrier, but I don’t think about it as the barrier ― the first-among-equals barrier ― and I think the YIMBYs do,” said Shanti Singh, communications and legislative director for Tenants Together, a state-level renters rights group in California.

YIMBYs advocate an “all of the above approach to housing,” said Matthew Lewis, a spokesperson for the statewide group California YIMBY.

“We need a lot more market-rate housing,” Lewis said. “We need a lot more subsidies. We need a lot more low-income housing. We need it all.”

The Post notes, “YIMBYs are not as wary as leftists of allowing market-rate housing development in low-income neighborhoods. They point to studies showing that constructing a new housing development typically lowers rents in neighboring areas, including lower-income areas, rather than raising them.”

I tend to agree with that view.  At the same time, I recognize that we are never going to completely build our way affordability either and therefore need more funding for affordable housing.

“More than ever, we need elected officials who are committed to changing our broken status quo,” Open New York wrote.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

28 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    “It was an article that caught my attention in part because it mirrors my transformation on  this issue.”

    How has your mind changed? You supported Measure J then and you support it now?

    Until you admit it has failed to allow an adequate supply of housing and should be done away with any other transformation you might have had is meaningless and of no value in addressing the problem.

    “We need a lot more market-rate housing,” Lewis said. “We need a lot more subsidies. We need a lot more low-income housing. We need it all.”

    Yep.

    “Thus San Francisco and New York, which have among the highest rents in the nation, are the first and second most restrictive places in the nation to build new housing.”

    Nope, places like Davis that have Measure J style ordinances are the most restrictive places to build housing in the nation. Of course you continue to support the chokehold that prevents Davis from addressing its housing needs while pretending to care about those who suffer from Davis’ housing shortage. Pathetic.

        1. David Greenwald

          Globally there is no Measure J. And the debate highlighted is not a local debate. I do agree we need to look at these issues locally, I don’t agree that everything we look at needs to center around Measure J.

        2. Ron Glick

          Actually, there are many smaller communities that have Measure J  style ordinances throughout California.

          Yimby or social justice warrior it doesn’t matter. Measure J is the elephant in the room locally. As long as you support it you are part of the problem and everything you write on housing must be viewed through the lens of that hypocrisy.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Framing this as a political debate between those on the left is misleading (and meaningless) without examining who funds organizations such as YIMBY and Californians for Home Ownership, salaries paid to their employees, etc. 

    Unlike tenant groups, these are not “grass-roots” organizations.

    Perhaps an article is in order examining the source and amount of funds which are supporting these groups, rather than trying to “tie-together” disparate groups based upon a disingenuous political appeal implying “kinship”.

    “Follow the money”, as it were.

  3. Ron Oertel

    And if you really want to see the difference between the YIMBY groups vs. tenant groups, look no further than the issue of rent control.

    Not even mentioned once in the article above.

  4. Ron Oertel

    Locally we are starting to see an interesting debate.  While there are some who simply deny there is a problem, polling shows about 70 percent of community members believe that housing affordability is a huge problem in Davis.

    Was this a scientifically-conducted poll, and not just based upon those who chose to respond to it (for example)?

    In other words, does it actually represent the views of “70 percent of community members”?

    I’d also be curious as to “who” the respondents believe that housing affordability is a problem for, and “why” they think it’s a concern.  (Certainly not a concern for most existing homeowners – whose purchase costs were fixed at the time of purchase.)

    For example, I’d be curious to know if most Davis residents actually want to lower housing costs (for the benefit of people who don’t live in Davis, but might want to move there). Or, if they want to lower them because those moving from the Bay Area “can’t afford” Davis – and they want to encourage more of that?

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

  5. Don Shor

    “There are those who argue we primarily need to solve it through subsidized housing and others who believe that while affordable housing important, the only way to get affordable housing is through market rate housing.”

    Easiest, fastest, likeliest to get built:
    Market rate housing that is affordable by design (smaller square footage).

    Affordable housing by mandated percentages in any new development (obviously subsidized by other homebuyers and renters);
    needs builder input to discern what percentage can be sustained by private investors.

    Each of those probably requires market rate housing that enables developers to get industry-standard ROI.

    Less likely, requires several steps and realistic financing options:
    Land trusts for co-op housing, presumably equity-limited.
    Affordable housing by federal subsidy; requires dedicated sites that are zoned, annexed if necessary, and with infrastructure provided.

    Council members and candidates who only focus on one or two of the above options are probably not being realistic.

    Rent control does not increase housing supply and is of no benefit to short-term renters. It is more likely harmful overall except to long-term tenants whose housing is adequate quality.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Rent control does not increase housing supply and is of no benefit to short-term renters.

      Increasing housing supply is not a benefit to those who already have a place to live – including renters in rent-controlled cities. And more often than not, building more results in gentrification.

      Who says that an increase in housing supply is needed in a state that’s losing population? Who, exactly is “additional” housing being provided to?

      For example, San Francisco’s population has decreased by more than 6%. Shouldn’t they be tearing down housing there, as a result? (Or at least, not building more?)

      It is more likely harmful overall except to long-term tenants whose housing is adequate quality.

      Harmful to who?

      1. David Greenwald

        “Increasing housing supply is not a benefit to those who already have a place to live”

        That assumes that once someone lives somewhere, they stay there. The data doesn’t support that. The average length of home ownership is only eight years. Even less for rentals.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Not seeing how that relates to my comment, for either of those groups.  Especially in a state with a declining overall population.

          And for homeowner (in particular), how would declining housing prices help those who move (and have to sell their existing home, to get another one)?

          Of course, if Costa Hawkins was repealed, “vacancy control” could also be enacted.  Ask your YIMBY friends how they feel about that.

          By the way, did you see this in the Chronicle, today?  I can’t see the article itself, since I don’t have a subscription:

          “Why YIMBYs are about to sue the daylights out of Bay Area cities”

          “Housing advocates are about to deliver a message to the Bay Area:  Comply with state housing law or face the consequences, writes columnist Emily Hoeven.”

          https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/article/yimby-bay-area-housing-element-california-17767757.php

          (I say “go for it”.)

        2. Matt Williams

          The average length of home ownership is only eight years. Even less for rentals.
          .

          Is that a Davis statistic?  Rentals, especially student rentals are surely less than eight years, but ownership homes?

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s a national stat. But the turnover rate in Davis is very high given that more than half the people living here are residents. The bottom line is that give you have renters, and people moving frequently, housing supply and affordability is a big issue for a sizable percentage of the population – locally and nationally.

        3. Matt Williams

          David, your reply is gobbledygook gook.  Renters by definition don’t factor into home ownership.  Your original comment was “ The average length of home ownership is only eight years.”

          What is the average length of home ownership in Davis?

          I suspect the average length of residence for renters in Davis is less than two years. Why is that relevant to the average length of home ownership?

  6. Ron Oertel

    It’s a national stat. But the turnover rate in Davis is very high given that more than half the people living here are residents.

    That sentence makes no sense.

    The bottom line is that give you have renters, and people moving frequently, housing supply and affordability is a big issue for a sizable percentage of the population – locally and nationally.

    You can’t lump-in all of these categories into one category.

    There are homeowners, whose initial purchase cost never increases.  If they move (probably not very often “within” Davis), they incur enormous transaction/sales fees from the same real estate industry that’s suing cities to force them to build more.

    Homeowners lose money if housing prices don’t rise enough to cover those costs at point of sale. In addition, they need the remaining proceeds from the sale of their house to purchase another house.

    I’ve yet to see an explanation regarding how “high” housing prices “hurt” most existing homeowners – or even those entering the market, now. (In fact, the latter category – those who recently purchased a home – are probably the least-likely to want to see housing prices collapse.)

    There are long-term renters, who benefit from rent control.

    There are those living in Affordable housing, whose income can’t rise above a certain level to remain in those homes.

    There are students (and other short-term renters) who (generally) don’t benefit from any of the above.  They would benefit if Costa Hawkins was overturned.

    Then again, not all students even need to attend the “university of their choice” for the first couple of years of their education. I would guess that few actually do.

    Housing and tuition (of which students rarely pay the full cost) should be included in any cost/benefit calculation regarding the “value” of a degree, and the “degree” to which it should be subsidized by others.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’ve yet to see an explanation regarding how “high” housing prices “hurt” most existing homeowners – or even those entering the market, now. (In fact, the latter category – those who recently purchased a home – are probably the least-likely to want to see housing prices collapse.)

      In response to any anticipated question regarding that quote, it is true that some areas are more expensive than other areas.  That’s always been the case, and is the reason that so many moved to the Sacramento region from the Bay Area in the first place.

      As housing prices rise in a given area (e.g., due to this “spillover” from more-expensive areas), those with less money have to start-out in an area which hasn’t yet experienced that.  (Again, the same reason that so many moved from the Bay Area to Davis and the Sacramento region in the first place.)

      Or as they say, “Go Anywhere Other than West”, young man (and woman).  (Though housing prices are now definitely going down in the West faster than in some other areas.)

      But all of this really begs the question: Are “high” housing prices perhaps a legitimate way to help control growth? Should housing prices be the same in Phoenix, as they are in Atherton? (You might want to ask Steph Curry about that.)

      Should there essentially be an “entry fee” to live in high-end, generally nicer areas? (If you say “no”, then you’re not a fan of capitalism at all. And should stop looking to those who promote it for a “solution” to what ails you.)

      Perhaps in this sense, I am somewhat of a fan of capitalism. That is, if high housing prices “keep out” the likes of me, perhaps that’s not a totally-bad thing.

      1. Don Shor

        Perhaps in this sense, I am somewhat of a fan of capitalism. That is, if high housing prices “keep out” the likes of me, perhaps that’s not a totally-bad thing.

        You benefit from the increased value of the houses that you own. You benefit from the housing scarcity that you advocate.

        But all of this really begs the question: Are “high” housing prices perhaps a legitimate way to help control growth?

        The consequences are harmful to people who live and work here who don’t have high enough incomes to buy larger homes in a housing market with supplies that have been constrained, in part, by restrictive growth policies. The state has a legitimate interest in reducing that harm. Cities can control the zoning and housing densities allowed, and many have done so in a manner that inflates the local housing values and reduces the supply of lower-cost housing. The state is now trying to compel cities to remove those barriers. The goal is to mitigate the impact of restrictive planning practices. Most housing will still be built by private builders. The mostly-free market will still prevail.

        1. Ron Oertel

          You benefit from the increased value of the houses that you own. You benefit from the housing scarcity that you advocate.

          By “you”, I’m assuming that you’re referring to homeowners in general (as I was).

          But getting back to the point I was making, how do “high” housing prices hurt homeowners?  Including those who move and then have to pay exorbitant real estate commissions/fees, and then purchase another house using their remaining funds?

          (As a side note, I don’t advocate for the conditions which create “scarcity” in the first place.  This is a primary reason that I was against DISC, as well.)

          But ultimately, housing “scarcity” (as you put it) is one of the reasons for the exodus from California (to pursue options that make more sense for some, on a personal level).  What (exactly) is “wrong” with that?  Isn’t that the same thing which caused people to move to Davis (and the Sacramento region) from the Bay Area in the first place?

          And as given areas have “enough growth” (e.g., in the eyes of the populace), what’s wrong with that?  (As long as other locales still welcome it – assuming that the overall population is increasing in the first place?)

          I do advocate for limitations on growth, as it’s simply not sustainable.  If I had any influence over (or connection to) what they do in Elk Grove (or Texas), for example – I’d make the case there.  Even Woodland is a hopeless case, in my opinion.

          The consequences are harmful to people who live and work here who don’t have high enough incomes to buy larger homes in a housing market with supplies that have been constrained, in part, by restrictive growth policies.

          Again, a reason I opposed DISC.

          Though truth be told, someone working at a local retail establishment (and relying solely upon that) isn’t going to be purchasing a house anywhere in the region or country, at this point.

          The state has a legitimate interest in reducing that harm. Cities can control the zoning and housing densities allowed, and many have done so in a manner that inflates the local housing values and reduces the supply of lower-cost housing. The state is now trying to compel cities to remove those barriers. The goal is to mitigate the impact of restrictive planning practices. Most housing will still be built by private builders. The mostly-free market will still prevail.

          As already noted, the market is not going to be providing the type of housing that you’re suggesting, above.  They don’t even do so in cheap areas very well.

          And if a local burrito costs $25 (to pay living wages), so be it.  And if businesses can’t afford to pay that, then they go out of business (taking their low-wage workers with them).

          Again, failing to see the problem here.

          As a side note, whenever visiting the Bay Area (and having to pay more for gas), I try to tell myself that it’s probably “higher-quality” gas. A little joke I play on myself.

          I will admit that once “scarcity” is created/manufactured, I don’t advocate for more sprawl to continue on a never-ending quest to “fix” it.

          I support the exodus (e.g., to Texas), since (as mentioned above) they welcome it, anyway. For that matter, most of the Sacramento region welcomes it with wide-open developer arms.

  7. Matt Williams

    Locally we are starting to see an interesting debate.  While there are some who simply deny there is a problem, polling shows about 70 percent of community members believe that housing affordability is a huge problem in Davis.

    .

    Something that has not been discussed at all thus far in Davis is the question, “What do Davis residents believe is the threshold housing price that constitutes ‘housing affordability’?  Is it $800,000?  $700,000?  $600,000?  $500,000?  $400,000?  Some value in between those amounts?”

     

  8. Keith Y Echols

    Locally we are starting to see an interesting debate.  While there are some who simply deny there is a problem, polling shows about 70 percent of community members believe that housing affordability is a huge problem in Davis.

    This is not the complete political picture.  So any conclusions on just this part of the views and attitudes of Davis hoi polloi is incomplete.   Yes, every Davisite and their inclusive, social justice advocating, environmental activist allies believe in “the housing crisis” and the need for affordable housing solutions.  They also don’t want more traffic, less parking, less services, 5 story buildings next door to their homes, affordable housing built next to their homes and they don’t want to pay more taxes (how about an affordable housing fund parcel tax?).  So everyone is cool with idealized magical infill planning for new affordable homes.  That is until that infill is next to their own homes.

    Basically they argue “market-rate housing has virtually never met the needs of major cities’ poorest and most vulnerable residents.”

    This is correct.  As I’ve tried to explain in the past, Builders’ behavior prevents them from acting in ways that will cause the housing market prices to lower.  They build in hot markets or up and coming markets.  THE FOR PROFIT BUILDERS’ GOAL IS TO EXASPERATE GENTRIFICATION.  Which overcomes the benefit of additional of supply that could (but doesn’t) reduce demand.

    YIMBYs advocate an “all of the above approach to housing,” said Matthew Lewis, a spokesperson for the statewide group California YIMBY.
    “We need a lot more market-rate housing,” Lewis said. “We need a lot more subsidies. We need a lot more low-income housing. We need it all.”

    As a general rule, no we don’t need more market rate housing.  HOWEVER certain cases can be made that market rate housing can be used as an investment/cost to support commercial and industrial expansion.  But that should only happen if that commercial industrial expansion is used to feed the common good; better services and infrastructure for the existing residence in the community and more funding for affordable (and even better PUBLIC) housing.

    1. Walter Shwe

      Yes, every Davisite and their inclusive, social justice advocating, environmental activist allies believe in “the housing crisis” and the need for affordable housing solutions.  They also don’t want more traffic, less parking, less services, 5 story buildings next door to their homes, affordable housing built next to their homes and they don’t want to pay more taxes (how about an affordable housing fund parcel tax?).  So everyone is cool with idealized magical infill planning for new affordable homes.  That is until that infill is next to their own homes.

      I would welcome a 10-story mixed affordable and market rate housing building adjacent to my house with open arms without reservation.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I would welcome a 10-story mixed affordable and market rate housing building adjacent to my house with open arms without reservation.

        I would guess that 99.9% of those living in single-family neighborhoods (e.g., Mace Ranch, Wildhorse, Lake Alhambra, etc.) would not.  For valid reasons, which have nothing to do with property values.

        Truth be told, even a “dense” development like Trackside likely raises the value of nearby properties.  That is, when it eventually gets built.

        The “problem” is due to other issues (related to livability and precedent), not valuations.

        I don’t think there’s a “problem” to be “solved”, overall. The market itself takes care of this, as demonstrated by the exodus of both companies and residents from the Bay Area.

        As well as straight-out job losses, due to economic contraction.

        Turns out that both of these things (as well as an overall decline in the housing market) “solves” a lot of so-called problems. So in that sense, the “market” (that the YIMBYs are so fond of) “works”. Without even building a stick of additional housing.

        What we’re witnessing here is a business and media-created “crisis”, for which they already had a “single solution” in mind. And that “solution” consists of a war on existing residents. (Note that I didn’t actually mention government as one of the “culprits”, since they’re just an arm of business interests.)

        1. David Greenwald

          “I would guess that 99.9% of those living in single-family neighborhoods (e.g., Mace Ranch, Wildhorse, Lake Alhambra, etc.) would not. For valid reasons, which have nothing to do with property values.”

          Leaving aside the validity of your estimate. Let’s think about the implications of that for a second. Many have said we need to get more dense. People say they want to preserve farmland. They say they are worried about affordable housing. And yet, when push comes to shove, many at least would oppose a dense affordable housing nearby. Isn’t that a problem?

        2. Ron Oertel

          Leaving aside the validity of your estimate. Let’s think about the implications of that for a second. Many have said we need to get more dense. People say they want to preserve farmland. They say they are worried about affordable housing. And yet, when push comes to shove, many at least would oppose a dense affordable housing nearby. Isn’t that a problem?

          Referencing Walter’s example, I believe that most folks would object to that level of increased density regardless of whether or not it included Affordable housing. (I’m a bigger fan of rent control, than Affordable housing.)

          I will say that the Creekside development is far more attractive than I first envisioned.  (Better-looking than Sterling, for that matter.) But neither of these developments are adjacent to any single-family housing – in contrast to Walter’s example.

          Regarding the implied “choice” between density and sprawl, I (ultimately) reject this argument, and wish that more would question it.  But in general, preventing additional sprawl is my primary goal.

  9. Ron Glick

    ” Many have said we need to get more dense. People say they want to preserve farmland. They say they are worried about affordable housing. And yet, when push comes to shove, many at least would oppose a dense affordable housing nearby. Isn’t that a problem?”

    The definition of Nimby.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for