by on November 20, 2016 at 7:23 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

The YIMBY (yes in my back yard) movement is a small but growing movement of people who are tired of ever increasing housing prices and entrenched rent-seekers who abrogate property rights and prevent development. Here is the YIMBY Party in San Francisco:

We strongly support building new housing. We have a severe housing shortage. Increasing supply will lower prices for all and expand the number of people who can live in the Bay Area.

YIMBY Party joins New York YIMBY and other YIMBY Town people from across North America and elsewhere.

By the way, McKinsey has a good report on housing in California. Key points:

California ranks 49th among the 50 US states for housing units per capita. Benchmarked against other states on a housing units per capita basis, California is short about two million units.

The report does a detailed analysis of housing patterns and finds that a large fraction of the deficit could be met by increased density around transit stations:

California could add more than five million new housing units in “housing hot spots”—which is more than enough to close the state’s housing gap. [Including]…1.2 million to three million housing units within a half mile of major transit hubs.

They also have good suggestions on streamlining the permitting process.

1 Bill November 20, 2016 at 7:39 am

Available housing supply is also a function of rapid and public transportation. If you can move from where you are to another place quickly there is a potential for a greater supply of housing in areas where it can easily be expanded. California chose the car. Change transportation and you increase the supply of housing and reduce its cost.

2 Slocum November 20, 2016 at 10:35 am

Rapid public transportation is almost an oxymoron. New York City has the highest percentage of public transport users in the country — along with the nations longest commute times. And people in New York who travel by transit waste even more time than the NYC average:

New York City: Respondents spend an average of 149 minutes on public transport each day, 38 minutes (26 percent) idly waiting for the bus or train to arrive, with a 40% dissatisfaction rate.

And relying more heavily on public transportation does not seem to have resulted in lower housing costs in NYC. It’s virtually the same pattern around San Francisco — the Bay Area has the 3rd highest rate of transit use (behind NYC and DC) along with…long commute times and high housing prices.

3 Bill November 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

You don’t control for density and will never achieve urban density without public transportation

Name high density urban areas without public transportation

As for your NYC and D.C. Example you fail to account for extensive suburban development which would not exist to the urban core without public transportation

Evidently you have never driven in NYC or commuted by car from NYC or D.C. To a suburb, nor have you ever taken a subway in a dense urban area and compared it to driving and parking in the same area

4 Slocum November 20, 2016 at 11:24 am

No, and I don’t particularly agree that achieving high urban density is a worthwhile goal. When you pack people in you get congestion and movement of people and goods slows to a crawl — so that even though distances are short travel times are long. And adding a lot of public transport to the mix doesn’t really change the negative effects of density much. People forced to rely on public transport waste even more time than those traveling by car.

Name high density urban areas without public transportation

Name a high-density urban area where public transportation provides for low average commute times. And don’t think it’s any better in enlightened European cities than in the benighted U.S.

5 Bill November 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm

So, you admit you dont control for density. You do not agree that high urban density is a worthwhile goal, yet you favor YMIBY. You cannot name a dense area without urban transportation.

So, what is the supply or urban density elasticity from YIMBY relative to pubic transportation investment to increase the supply of housing by reducing transportation times.

6 Slocum November 20, 2016 at 2:21 pm

I favor YIMBY because I oppose heavy development restrictions generally and more housing will help with housing prices. I think people are a bit nuts for wanting to shoehorn themselves into already tightly packed urban areas, but if that’s what they really want, they should be free to choose it (and developers should be free to build housing for them). As it dense cities everywhere, if they’re not extremely wealthy, they’ll spend a lot of long frustrating hours commuting, but if they think it’s worth it, I don’t want to stop them.

As for urban areas without public transport — no, of course there really aren’t any. Cities tend to be politically dominated by lefties who love the idea of public transport (even though they generally don’t want to have to ride it themselves). BUT there are quite a lot of cities where the public transport carries a very small percentage of the overall traffic and yet commute times are low (Indianapolis, for example, or Phoenix).

7 anon November 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm

People choose to live with longer commutes because it’s cheaper and more comfortable to travel 40 minutes via walking + subway compared to driving for 40 minutes, and because the social and job opportunities in 40 minutes of travel in NYC are far greater than 40 minutes driving in an automobile dominant metro area.

” When you pack people in you get congestion and movement of people and goods slows to a crawl”

That’s not relevant. People and goods move quickly in rural Nebraska… so what? It doesn’t matter if there is nowhere of significance for people and goods to go. If you’re not controlling for density when judging transportation then you’re not saying anything.

Housing in NYC was cheaper before zoning laws began to prevent the market from responding to demand. 10 million people still prefer it to the endless number of low density metro areas in the USA.

8 Urso November 21, 2016 at 4:00 pm

anon, you may want to check your numbers. Many, many more people live in “low density metro areas” – however you want to define that term – than in NYC.

9 Peter Schaeffer November 21, 2016 at 1:18 pm


“Name high density urban areas without public transportation”

From “Houston ranks low on national use of public transit” (http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2012/02/13/houston-ranks-low-on-national-use-of.html)

“The Houston area uses less public transportation than most other U.S. cities, however, it is on the high end of the list compared to other Texas cities. Only 2.57 percent of Houston workers use public transportation, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Business Journals’ On Numbers. That means only 68,129 people use public transportation to get to work out of the 2.7 million workers in Houston.
Although only 2.57 percent of Houston workers use public transportation, this percentage is higher than most other Texas cities. Still, workers in the Bayou City, which is known for its sprawling concrete landscape, commute by public transit far more than other Texas cities such as Dallas, where 1.56 percent of workers use public transportation, and Beaumont, where 0.6 percent of workers use public transportation. All Texas cities fall short of public transportation use when compared to cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which all have more than 12 percent of workers commuting by public transit.”

All Texas cities rank very low in public transit utilization. We can debate if they are “dense” or not. Note that public transit is relatively minimal even in NYC, SF, and DC. Of course, housing is vastly more affordable in Texas compared to NYC, SF, and DC.

10 ladderff November 20, 2016 at 10:45 am

Perhaps this is what happens when everyone who’s anyone feels (often correctly) that he has to squeeze into one of three cities on a whole continent in order to get anywhere.

Every city in America should be made safe and clean again. The rest will follow.

11 P Burgos November 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm

My impression is that most cities in the U.S are safe and clean, but still don’t offer opportunities for the ambitious like New York, San Francisco, and L.A. do. Is Columbus dangerous? How about Indianapolis? What about Austin? Or Omaha? Oklahoma City? Raleigh? Charlotte?

12 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Raleigh is good.

13 mw November 20, 2016 at 11:01 am

Yep, score one more useless libertarian post demanding more housing conveniently without demanding a massive expansion of modern, fast, public transit – because of course that requires taxes and government spending (and can’t be solved by the mythical “public-private” tax handouts).

San Francisco also has one of the world’s slowest public transport systems with a fleetwide average speed of 8MPH. And absolutely abysmal traffic.

But yeah, let’s add 2 million more people without doing anything about that and see what happens! It will be a libertarian paradise.

14 Bob November 20, 2016 at 11:43 am

Actually, it’s a lot easier than that. Just let people build next to the existing, high-quality public transportation.

Take a look at Palo Alto. It has the second most-used Caltrain station next to downtown SF, and it’s less than an hour away from either SF or SJ by express train. It also has reasonable bus service along El Camino Real, the main commercial corridor.

However, Palo Alto recently restricted decelopment in all areas within walking distance of a train station or bus corridor without restricting it in the Stanford Research Park, a huge suburban office park that is not easily accessible by transit. Meanwhile, the Mayor has said that large tech companies should move from the transit-accessible downtown to the suburban office parks, despite two-thirds of downtown workers walking or taking transit. If those companies moved, Palo Alto would see thousands of additional workers forced to drive.

Why did they do this? A sense that “employment belongs in employment districts, not downtown”. This is pretty typical – most Bay Area cities allow much higher density near the freeway rather than near transit, and then complain about traffic.

So California could do a lot just by using the transit they already have instead of pushing everyone to drive on the already congested freeways.

15 Harun November 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

San Francisco is run by the left, not the libertarians. Why don’t they just increase taxes on their citizenry to pay for these vital investments?

16 Agra Brum November 21, 2016 at 1:40 pm

San Francisco is a tiny peninsula (and has major transit investment right now with MUNI). The Metropolitan Area = the Bay = a much larger and more fragmented area, but it does have BART.

17 Jack Grahl November 21, 2016 at 5:45 am

The problem with this idea is that where new housing is artificially scarce, all the benefits of improvements to transportation accrue to owner-occupiers and landlords. As new suburbs get brought into commutable distance from the metro area, rents and house prices jump up to compensate, and the city doesn’t become any more affordable.

The solution to this is for the supply of land for building residences to increase to the point where the price of housing depends on building costs not on demand.

18 rayward November 20, 2016 at 7:52 am

Here’s a better idea: move those jobs for the highly educated and highly skilled to places with an abundance of urban land, lax regulation of development, a cooperative local government, and an abundance of low-educated, low-skilled people already there. It’s a win, win: an abundance of inexpensive housing for the highly educated and highly skilled who move there and who by moving there will offset the votes of the low-educated and low-skilled people who are already there so America doesn’t elect another ignoramus as president.

19 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 8:14 am

To be fair, the “ignoramus” almost won the popular vote. It is not clear “offsetting” will be enough nex time. Also, I am not sure he can be called an ignoramus just because he played America like a berimbau (a Brazilain melodious one-string musical instrument).

20 rayward November 20, 2016 at 8:27 am

Under the current arrangement, geographic separation of smart people and stupid people, the latter don’t know they are stupid because all their neighbors are stupid too. Migrating smart people to reside near stupid people should increase the awareness of the stupid people that they are, well, stupid. It’s an application of the law of relativity.

21 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 8:32 am

I doubt stupidity works this way, it seems utopic, like Fourrier’s Phalansteries.

22 Scott Gustafson November 20, 2016 at 9:44 am

You are assuming that the highly skilled/highly educated are smart while the others are stupid. That’s a really bad assumption to make.

A better assumption would be that the highly skilled/highly educated have different preferences from the others. Mixing the communities probably won’t change their preferences much.

23 Thor November 20, 2016 at 1:01 pm

When you assemble the clever people in preparation for their migration to the dumb peeps’ locales, you could always teach them a secret handshake, so they will be able to recognize one another.

24 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 1:35 pm

We already have one secret handshake. Never mind, I have said too much already. It is supposed to be a secret.
Anyway, trust me, our lot is not a happy one. Sometimes we yearn for the simplicity and tranquility of the life you lead, people. All the responsabilities, decisions to make, alternatives to weight, fully knowing oneself and oneself’s fellow Alpha Double-Plus are the only thing between Manking and disaster drives a man to an early grave. If only you people could understand, I wouldn’t feel so alone… By Ford, I need some soma! “One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments

25 kevin November 21, 2016 at 7:32 am

And yet everyone on the other side of the geographic distribution knows/thinks they are smart

26 Thor November 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Ah, the infamous berimbau … when WILL it catch on, and sweep all before it? Any day now.

27 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

It has caught on already in Brazil where it is an important part of the musical culture (Brazil is widely known to be fifty years already any other country in Music, Literature and Cinema). When a distinguished Medicine professor said the Berimbau had only one string because people around (in Bahia State) was too stupid to learn how to play an istrument with more than one string, the outrage shaked the country and angered the nation. The national outrage forced him to resign his post as department head.

28 me November 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

This seems hard for two related reasons:
1) A lot of the industries in California benefit from proximity to various industry leaders (VC, hollywood executives, etc) who are much more comfortable commiting resources to people they can see every day. (And those people are well enough off that they aren’t about to move because things get a bit more expensive.)
2) The dynamic business structure in California business is indirectly but highly built on the fact that noncompetes are basically unenforcable in California. Very few other places in the US (world?) are like this.

29 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm

“The dynamic business structure in California business is indirectly but highly built on the fact that noncompetes are basically unenforcable in California”.
Why? Seriously, I don’t know why.

30 P Burgos November 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm

As in why are non-compete agreements unenforceable in California? That seems to be a quirk in the history of the state’s jurisprudence. Some judge or court at one time made a ruling that makes it very hard to write non-compete agreements that will be upheld in state courts. As to why this is important for Silicon Valley, well…

31 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 2:10 pm

I don’t recall having ever heard about it. Thanks.

32 JL N November 20, 2016 at 10:26 am

Why do you assume Clinton won the “highly skilled?” Clinton won the highly educated, but Trump won among the higher income. Which is a better predictor of “skill?” I say the latter.

33 Jan November 20, 2016 at 10:45 am

That is technically true about Trump winning the high income folks, but it was incredibly close (~1% difference). Pretty much a wash.

Interestingly, these exit polls show that the share of voters making >$50k and >$100k voting for Dems increased between 2012 and 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html?_r=0

34 Jan November 20, 2016 at 10:28 am

This is a bit of a joke, but it is happening. I am not sure I agree with Sen on how quickly, but it is clearly the trend.


35 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I say, “White men go away, it is over your day”.

36 Ray Lopez November 20, 2016 at 8:40 am

But YIMBY becomes NIMBY once you acquire property. One person’s barrier to entry is another person’s protective moat.

37 rayward November 20, 2016 at 9:12 am

Tabarrok expresses concern that “entrenched rent-seekers . . . abrogate property rights and prevent development”. Whose “property rights” are being abrogated? It can’t be the developer because he doesn’t yet own the property he wishes to develop, unless Tabarrok means the developer has a “property right” to develop property he doesn’t yet own but wishes to own and develop? Do I have a “property right” to be a rich developer? I don’t think so. I might have an idea and an ambition, but that’s not a “property right”. Tabarrok might mean that the owner who wishes to sell to a developer but can’t (or the developer who has already purchased the property but can’t develop it) because the owner’s property isn’t zoned for multi-family and her neighbors won’t consent to a rezoning. Does an owner have a “property right” to rezone her property? If I have owned my single-family home for 40 years and it’s in an area zoned single-family, don’t I have a “property right” to prevent my neighbor from building a high rise next door? Throwing around a loaded term like “property right” dissembles rather than clarifies – is it a “property right” only when it’s something I want?

38 rayward November 20, 2016 at 9:28 am

What’s Tabarrok’s view of the Kelo eminent domain case? If it doesn’t violate an owner’s “property rights” to build a high rise next door to the owner’s single family home in an area zoned single family, then it shouldn’t violate that owner’s “property rights” if the local government acquires the owner’s property for a valid public purpose (needed housing) via the power of eminent domain even if the owner doesn’t wish to sell.

39 Ray Lopez November 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm

I think AlexT is talking about existing home owners not property developers, who generally want to build a high-rise anywhere. So property developers would be YIMBY and existing property owners would be NIMBY. As for the rest of your questions, there’s an excellent book I’m reading now that explains “property” is a shifting term. There’s even property rights for viewing a scenic distant mountain (popular in California), property rights for ‘goodwill’ in a business, etc. The book is: Stuart Banner, “American Property: A history of How, Why and What we own”. Order yours today!

40 Banned Norse Warrior November 20, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Once in a while rayward makes lots of sense. You economists (or liberals, as Art Deco would say) might want to work out some proposals for how to increase density without creating winners and losers. When my neighbor makes a backroom deal with the city council to allow a narrow six story apartment building with 54 units, and half of those hipster households have a car, that is 27 fewer street parking spots.


Look at the poor neighbors to the left and right:


41 albatross November 20, 2016 at 1:51 pm

I suspect the movement would be better named YIYBY– Yes in *your* back yard.

42 Andrew M November 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Quite right. These people will be all pro-YIMBY, right up to the day that they sign their property deeds. Then they’ll suddenly discover a previously unknown concern about traffic, about pollution, or about the rights of lesser-crested newts living in nearby fields.

New regulations can be created overnight; tearing down existing regulations is much harder.

43 psmith November 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

This is what happens when you remove the property requirement from voting.

44 Sam the Sham November 20, 2016 at 8:50 am

Yanno… I know this is a joke comment, but my parents are farmers in a small town, and given the way property taxes seem to be very popular, I might back this idea. Eventually my parents will be property taxed to the point we’ll have to sell the farm. Of course, the taxes are For The Children, so they always pass.

Of course, you can have weighted voting such that if you A) have a high school diploma, B) have military service, you get +1 vote. +2 if you have all both, or something. That way you don’t completely disenfranchise the lower tiers of society, but hopefully voters would be more sophisticated than voting for socialism.

45 Sam the Sham November 20, 2016 at 8:57 am

I had to figure out a good way of doing a property requirement. It’s not enough to simply own property, some sort of sacrifice would be required. So, you’d have to spend 5,000$ to the city’s coffers to gain another +1 vote (doable only once, so you couldn’t spend 50k to get +10 votes… although you could distribute the 50k to some compatriots you could trust). As poor as my hometown is, I don’t view that as plutocracy. You pay in to the social contract, you get a say. You don’t pay in, you don’t get as much a say.

46 N.K Anton November 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

I think its pretty unlikely that your family wouldn’t have kept that land for long in the counterfactual of a property requirement voting system.

47 The Other Jim November 20, 2016 at 8:57 am

>The YIMBY (yes in my back yard) movement is a small but growing movement of…

Real estate developers.

48 Not A Communist November 20, 2016 at 9:12 am

Let’s continue to build out an infrastructure for undocumented workers in California!

49 Mike W November 20, 2016 at 9:14 am

Where are the “2 million” families in California living?

50 Thiago Ribeiro November 20, 2016 at 12:40 pm

In California.

51 KL November 20, 2016 at 9:38 am

“California ranks 49th among the 50 US states for housing units per capita.”
Why aren’t we worried about Utah? Do we think those Utah Mormons like living in big, crowded families? Virginians suffer with 2.44 people per housing unit, while those swinging singles in D.C. have only 2.2.

Population/ Persons/
State Housing Units Household
Utah 2.93 3.12
California 2.81 2.94
Hawaii 2.70 2.96
Texas 2.63 2.82
NJ 2.50 2.71
Maryland 2.49 2.65
Georgia 2.46 2.71
Virginia 2.44 2.6

DC 2.17 2.2
NH 2.15 2.47
Montana 2.11 2.39
WV 2.10 2.43
Vermont 1.93 2.34
Maine 1.84 2.33

Data from http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/all-states/average-household-size#table.

52 chuck martel November 20, 2016 at 9:55 am

You can’t have modern housing without the amenities that make it possible, like electrical generation and distribution, gas, retail petroleum, and all the private businesses that support life in America but are regarded as de’ classe’ by the NIMBYS.

53 gab November 20, 2016 at 1:52 pm

This is actually a sophisticated strategy on the part of Californians to get the poor to move to Arizona, Nevada and Texas but the dumb bastards won’t leave! They just keep cluttering up the freeways and the local Whole Foods.

54 Jan November 20, 2016 at 2:57 pm

I’ve read numerous smug comments on here about how many Californians are moving to Texas–because of the dumb, liberal policies that drive up the cost of living in CA. 🙂

55 gab November 20, 2016 at 3:45 pm

I’ve proposed paying people to leave, but so far my idea hasn’t gained any traction. A couple grand per person (more for children) would be a helluva lot cheaper than building houses or schooling the kids.

I think I’m gonna try to get a proposition on the 2018 ballot.

56 Brian Donohue November 21, 2016 at 4:46 pm

In 1970, SF was 13.4% black. By 2010, the city was 6.1% black.

57 Urso November 21, 2016 at 12:04 pm

I’m going to assume, without clicking through, that YIMBY is an astroturf organization indirectly funded by real estate developers. Feel free to inform me if I’m wrong.

58 peri November 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm

In my neck of the woods (boomtown – cranes more than jobs – with immigration-driven growth) they’re people who seem very dissatisfied with who their neighbors are right now (old people, uggh). They often express concern for people who haven’t even arrived yet, and how to include those hypothetical people in decision-making.

I have some sympathy for the ennui produced by a dull car-centric neighborhood (my husband none: safe is good, dull is safe). But I’ve figured out while staying put for years, as others come and go, that people don’t really know how to be, or want to be, or “have time” to be neighbors anymore. Yard work is hired out, childcare is hired out, no one’s home and they shut the garage door as they’re pulling in. You will never exchange a word with anyone in the boxy 6-plex set down amid the single family homes, but it’s fun to watch the construction, and if there were a little more care with the aesthetics, it could be a nice addition to the streetscape.

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