Earlier this week, my rowdy gang of housing activists called East Bay Forward read Erin’s article. It was posted to our slack and thoroughly dissected, as we are wont to do with such critiques.
While Erin’s analysis of the shortfallings of the YIMBY movement are well received, I’d like to address some issues I have with it.
Almost two years ago in a dingy coworking space, I was one of the co-authors of the original YIMBY Platform. My edits are in it, right along with evidence of my passion for providing housing to the people. I’d first proposed the question of an east bay YIMBY group at the monthly Congress meeting and was given the task of launching it in response. In many ways I consider myself a founder of the modern YIMBY movement.
So yes, I have some feedback. Both for YIMBYs and Erin.
NIMBYs are absolutely the enemy of housing production. When I talk about NIMBYs, I talk about the old greyhairs up in the Oakland Hills who trundle down to the planning commission every other week to protest some housing proposal or another, and the occasional 5" wide cell phone antenna pole.
West and East Oakland are undergoing rapid change in their demographics, as people of color are being priced out of the neighborhood. The underlying causes are a mix of systemic racism preventing them from having as high an income as their white counterparts and, of course, rents rising faster than their incomes do.
Oaklanders watching their friends and families and communities be torn to shreds through the effects of displacement absolutely have every right to protest these changes. They have every right to be mad at the status quo. I’m white, and afforded certain privileges in this space. It isn’t my place to come forward and tell them they shouldn’t be mad, or even that their anger is misdirected. As a white person, its my responsibility to give them space for this anger.
My critique of YIMBYs is thus: give your fellow neighbors space to be angry. We can’t speak for people of color; the best we can do is be an educational tool for the segregationist effects of zoning and work to uplift the voices of those around us. It is a hard sell for a white person to come forth and argue that not building housing will have an effect on them. We’re at the top of the white supremacy food chain, and often seen as the direct benefactors of our housing shortage.
Now, I do have some issues with Erin’s analysis of our “simple messaging”. In her piece, she lists five bullet points of what housing allyship looks like.
- Listen to and stand with vulnerable communities
- To that end, always come back to one question: Who are we really building for?
- Be pro-housing.
- Don’t write everyone off as NIMBYs
- Learn the history of the housing movement
I argue that this is an overly simplistic analysis of the YIMBY movement that one might come to by reading only one person’s twitter feed. YIMBYs might look at that list and think, “I’m already doing that!” and they’d be right.
Many YIMBYs the world over practice these suggestions and go even further. My best role model for this intersectional approach to YIMBYism comes from my co-conspirator Laura Loe who can be found behind the @YIMBYsea handle on twitter. They’re in the process of upzoning the University District of Seattle with an incredibly diverse crowd.
The YIMBY group I helped co-found, East Bay Forward, has regular discussions and check-ins to make sure we’re all thinking outside our bubble.
I’m consistently impressed with the work of Angela Hockabout (@KnitLuck) and her YIMBY group the Alameda Renter’s Coalition.
Yes, YIMBYs are predominantly white millenials. Yes, we’re aware of this, and yes we haven’t always been aware of this. That doesn’t mean you can take a sample from a subset of vocal YIMBYs and extrapolate the rest of the movement from them. We’re affordable housing activists. Tenant rights activists. Everyday people struggling with displacement and gentrification in our neighborhoods. YIMBY isn’t a shorthand for anyone chanting “Build, baby, build!”.
I invite Erin to come to a YIMBY congress meeting and see what we’re about before writing us off like this. I want to hear your story and I want you to hear ours.