Yes In My Back Yard

Posted on: December 2017

First came nimbys – loose-knit groups of entrenched neighborhood homeowners that oppose adjacent new development. The title, which reputedly dates to the early 1980s, is based on the slogan, "Not in My Back Yard."

The once-catchy moniker has lost much of its luster as a societal buzzword even as the issue remains: Battles continue over allegedly disruptive land uses such as industrial or major commercial projects near long-time residential enclaves.

Still, the title's familiarity spurred a spin-off term in the past five years or so that evokes some of the same controversies. It's "yes in my back yard," or yimbys. In this case, disputes are over hugely high-priced rental and ownership markets in alluring big-city downtowns. Reasonably well-off millennials favor new, more moderately priced developments in the works, but those still somewhat expensive properties tend to push out established, lower-income minority groups.

"A series of new groups have emerged in U.S. cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Austin, as well as globally, lobbying not against development but for it," says ApartmentList, which describes itself as a website that accumulates apartment listings from Internet sources into a map-based depository. "These advocates, known as yimbys (yes in my back yard), argue that their lives are threatened by housing shortages and skyrocketing rental prices."

According to Apartment List, the yimby movement got its start in the San Francisco Bay Area and has its ground zero in the Mission District as "well-paid tech workers" gentrify the historically low-income Hispanic neighborhood.

Due to evictions and the lack of affordable housing, one-third of the Mission's Hispanic population is expected to be displaced between 2000 and 2020. Deepa Varma, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, expressed frustration at seeing a "new group come in and portray Latinos fighting for the preservation of their neighborhood as nimbys," the website notes.

The yimby movement isn't exclusive to the West Coast or high-tech areas: there's a New York yimby website and a "yimby festival" as early as 2013 in Toronto.

Media outlets have joined in to write about the phenomenon. The Guardian cites such places as Sydney, Australia and Oxford, England as "one of a series of new groups that have sprouted up, lobbying not against development but for it."

According to the publication, "Yimby activists helped push through a 25-story apartment and retail/restaurant development in Oakland this year despite local opposition."

The San Francisco Bay Area has among the highest rents in U.S., the Guardian says. It notes that greater San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose added 307,000 jobs between 2010 and 2013, but built fewer than 40,000 new housing units, according to state of California estimates.

“It’s clear that this is a housing shortage – and the answer is to build housing,” says Laura Foote Clark, who heads San Francisco-based Yimby Action. “You generate policy by yelling about things,” she says.

In New York, an online publication called "Yimby News" boasts a section on the five top developments the group is watching.

For instance on Nov. 30, 2-17, the website reported on permits filed for 328 and 330 Sackett St. in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn.

The property showcases a pair of four-story residential buildings, located five blocks from the Carroll Street subway station. "The project is near plenty of commercial activity, with several bars and restaurants located within walking distance, and Gowanus' nightlife is also just a few blocks to the east. (Gowanus is another Brooklyn neighborhood). The Brooklyn Home Company will be responsible for the development," according to Yimby News.

Also this summer, The Atlantic wrote a piece entitled "'Not in My Backyard' to 'Yes in My Backyard.' Out of a desire for more-equitable housing policy, some city dwellers have started allying with developers instead of opposing them," the magazine says.