Our support for more housing is impossible to separate from our desire to alleviate poverty, grow the economy, end homelessness, eliminate racial segregation, and stop climate change. The damage caused by our current housing shortage spreads inexorably into every aspect of our lives; it is an almost universal problem in American communities. Ending the housing shortage is necessary to address the racial wealth gap, stopping climate change, and many other problems society faces.
When we fail to construct enough houses, working class families lose the ability to own a home, while renters are similarly cost-burdened. This constant upward pressure on prices means that lower-income individuals and families find it ever more difficult to juggle their financial obligations. This exacerbates the homelessness crisis, as more people are priced out of their homes.
The housing shortage is rooted in a long history of racist practices. Systemic racism, both the legacy of explicitly racist policies and an ongoing system of implicitly racist ones, hurts people of color and makes our communities more segregated. Federal, state, and local governments have used housing policy to exclude people of color. People of color are also especially vulnerable to the soaring costs caused by the housing shortage. Deliberate policies have denied people of color and especially Black families access to wealth and opportunity. These policies continue to this day in the form of modern exclusionary housing policies.
Recognizing this shameful history is critical; the policies we advocate for must intentionally address historical wrongs as we create a housing abundant future. We endeavour to enact thoughtful legislation that builds more housing while simultaneously protecting existing vulnerable populations.
The housing shortage is a result of harmful laws passed at all levels of government. YIMBY Action advocates for many policy changes which we bucket into “The Core Four.” These are the inclusive housing policies that will help shrink the racial wealth gap, reduce displacement, reduce carbon emissions, and give more people access to jobs and high quality schools.
Upzone to allow more housing in every neighborhood
American neighborhoods are defined by exclusion. Our system of exclusionary zoning bans duplexes, apartments, subsidized affordable housing, student housing and more in most “residential” areas. Excluding these types of residencies keeps neighborhoods homogenous and makes housing more expensive. YIMBYs advocate for the end of this ban on apartments and other kinds of housing; we want to end exclusionary zoning.
Upzoning is especially important in wealthy, high-opportunity neighborhoods where current zoning laws perpetuate racial and class segregation.
Policies we have advocated for in this category include California’s More HOMES Act (SB 50), density bonuses, legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units (aka granny flats), and zoning overlays.
Make housing permits fast and fair
Even where housing is technically allowed, complex and arbitrary permitting can stall, scale back, or prevent its development in practice. Complex permitting creates an arbitrary system where opportunities for corruption flourish while the length of development drags on for years. This drives up the cost of new housing, further stressing an already overburdened and too expensive system. This byzantine permitting process is often wielded by wealthy homeowners looking to block new developments in their neighborhoods.
Improving permitting is especially important in exclusionary neighborhoods where more privileged residents have better ability to exert political influence and file frivolous lawsuits.
Policies in this category include California’s SB 35, “by right” or “as of right” permitting, permit streamlining, and reform of environmental review processes.
Fund Affordable Housing
Increase funding for low-income housing
It is unlikely that the private market will ever provide sufficient housing for the lowest income populations. YIMBYs believe that a critical part of achieving housing justice is to increase public funding for income-qualified housing at the federal, state and local levels.
There are many kinds of subsidized affordable, social, and public housing, and many ways to fund this critical housing. While the financing can get complicated, the need for more subsidized affordable housing is obvious.
Policies in this category include bonds for affordable housing, increasing Section 8 funding, and utilizing existing government resources to increase funding for subsidized housing.
Fix Broken Incentives
Reform laws that incentivize communities to say no to new homes
Poorly designed tax structures have a multitude of negative effects. From the way we tax land to the distribution of revenue between federal, state, and local governments, cities face powerful incentives to add jobs while limiting housing. Cities and towns are often able to grow their tax base while limiting costly services that would otherwise drain their municipal coffers. As local governments struggle with insufficient budgets, they often intentionally add excessive requirements for housing developers to fund local needs. This further discourages home building and can make middle income housing infeasible.
States need to offer more help to our municipalities and re-align these broken incentives so that it makes financial sense to build.
Policies in this category include eliminating parking requirements, improving regional coordination on transit, and reforming broken tax policies that discourage residential building, such as California’s Proposition 13.
Overlaying all of our policy priorities we apply a concept of examining for disproportionate impact. Policy changes often have unintended consequences. We are all too familiar with the long and shameful history of housing legislation used to further harm already vulnerable communities. YIMBY Action fiercely advocates for the inclusion of tenant protections and other measures that ensure these policies uplift those most in need of help.
Our YIMBY Core Four is foundational to addressing the housing shortage and achieving housing justice. It represents the focus of YIMBY advocacy, though it shouldn’t be thought of as the “end all be all” in the housing fight. This is, rather, a place for us to start.
Unaddressed here are any number of issues that are negatively impacting our quest for a more equitable and fair society.
YIMBY Action alone can’t address every issue at every level of this crisis. Together we can generate the energy that moves us towards a better world.
Ready to take action to make the Core Four a reality? Become a YIMBY Action member to fuel our movement and/or join the fight!