What Is A More Livable Community?

The Mortgage Corner



There is a budding national movement to build more affordable housing with the growing housing shortage (and homeless) problem. It is just one more facet of the so-called Livable Cities movement begun in the 1980s that searched for ways to make cities safer for children as well as adults in a friendlier environment less dependent on the automobile.

The YIMBY movement is taking hold in cities all over America, from California to Massachusetts. YIMBY stands for ‘Yes in My Backyard’, a movement to build denser residential units near city centers and transportation hubs, as opposed to the NIMBY, ‘Not in My Back Yard’ syndrome affecting many upscale housing communities that have managed to keep such housing out of their backyards.

NIMBYism is really a local community incarnation of the outlawed redlining by banks that once would not loan or invest in ‘certain’ lower-income neighborhoods, but must do so today to keep their charters. NIMBYism prevails in predominately single-family based communities that have found ways to discourage the creation of high zoning densities near their housing tracts that would enable the building of more affordable housing for ‘those’ people.

“Look around, and YIMBYs are a growing presence,” said a 2017 Atlantic Monthly article as the movement took hold. “There’s a YIMBY group in Somerville, Massachusetts, and one in Los Angeles; there’s a San Francisco YIMBY party and a YIMBY group in Portland. YIMBYtown, a national conference, will take place in Oakland this month; Helsinki is hosting Yimbycon in August (2107).

The situation is most dire today in California. Its homeless population has risen to more than 150,000 in 2018, up 17 percent just from 2017, and the median home price is now $561,000, according to Zillow, with many workers priced out of living in the coastal communities that hold the best jobs.

Hence the one and two-hour commute times for those that work in Silicon Valley, but live in the Livermore.and Castro Valleys or further eastward, at least 40 miles and a two-hour drive during commuting hours, in part because alternate transportation modes such as the Bay Area’s BART light rail have yet to connect to Santa Clara County where most of Silicon Valley is located.

SB50, California’s attempt to override local zoning laws to enable smarter urban planning concepts failed for a second time, which makes it even more urgent to find a solution to California’s perennial housing shortage. It was a valiant effort that sank when some minority and homeless advocates opposed it, of all people.

Their concern was that it would gentrify in some way the areas around transportation hubs by destroying older, existing neighborhoods. It’s really hard to understand that reasoning, as “Developers, landlords, Facebook, construction unions, the state Chamber of Commerce, Realtors, environmental groups and even the AARP wanted to see the bill pass,” said Cal Matters, a legislative blog that announced its demise:

“Nonetheless Senate Bill 50, a measure that would have forced cities to allow more mid-rise apartment buildings around public transit and next to some single-family homes, failed to get enough votes in the California Legislature to survive in 2020 before time ran out,” it continued.

Younger social activists are behind much of the push for YIMBY housing and new zoning laws that create more affordable housing. Sonja Trauss, a former High School mathematics teacher, co-founded YIMBYlaw.org in 2018, a San Francisco lobbying effort whose mission is to make housing in California more accessible and affordable.

“Our method is to enforce state housing laws like the Housing Accountability Act. We send letters to cities considering zoning or general plan compliant housing developments informing them of their duties under state law, and sue them when they don’t comply,” said Ms. Trauss.

She said her efforts grew out of the frustration in getting approvals for entry-level, affordable housing, because rent control supporters could not unite with those that wanted more housing, resulting in fragmented efforts to build more affordable residences.

An earlier, rural version of YIMBYism sprang up in Washington State called pccfarmlandtrust.org is a nonprofit land trust working to protect and steward threatened farmland in Washington, and purveyors of organic produce from sustainable farming. “We work to keep land in production by making it accessible to future generations of farmers.” is part of its mission statement.

So the drive to provide more housing for a growing population is taking many forms, and signals the demise of suburban sprawl, as we know it. The missing piece in this effort seems to be transportation networks, which need to be improved to connect where we live to where we must work to support such housing.

Harlan Green © 2020

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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