Below is a revised mix of my notes plus a bit more commentary from all of the discussions that I attended. I might use some of this info in a future post, but I wanted to dump the “raw” stuff to help provide information and inspire others to write as well.
Session 1: Messaging YIMBYism with Anna Fahey (@afahey)
HALA is Seattle’s suite of 65 recommendations to build much-needed housing. Goal is 50K new units, 20K of them affordable and subsidized by other 30K units.
Terms of crisis and conflict dominate the MSM coverage of housing. Instead, we need language which better defines things, like using the term “shortage.” The term “growth” is also too abstract – we need to connect on a personal level with real stories. Term “affordability” is also not great, as people think it refers to low-income. We all need affordable housing!
We need less talk of the “character” of the built environment, and more of the “characters” that make up our wonderful cities.
Focus groups made up of both renters and homeowners did not easily see the connection between housing crisis and housing shortage. Only thought about luxury building. Need to be specific about missing middle housing, then people get it.
Stop using terms like “density” but instead focus on livability issues that come with it (walkable cities, for example).
This is a comparable messaging battle to climate change, similar on many levels. It’s hard to talk about scary things, easy to bury head in sand and think change isn’t happening.
Old-school leftists view many who make profit (developers in this case) as evil.
Sometimes, using the term “builder” might be better than developer.
Session 2: YIMBYs at Court
Brian worked on establishing a c3
went from 315 apartments to 44 SF luxury homes
Housing accountability act
If something is zoned for the density, they (locality) have to approve it
But 3rd party sued on their behalf. Suit is against Lafayette.
Federal Fair Housing Act
Supreme Court voted in the right way Texas v Inclusive Communities Project
Low Income Tax Credit only happens in black/Latino neighborhoods.
Maintains existing patterns of segregation.
9th circuit includes “disparate impact” – easier to prove than Disparate Treatment
Court system has been positive in the past year
Mount Laurel cases in NJ
NJ court is activist in forcing localities to accept low income housing
Filing suit against Lafayette brought media exposure
Many POC communities have been fighting for fair housing for decades (think MNNOC?)
Building low-income housing in exclusionary suburbs is very hard.
“Are you integrationist or not?”
Writ was filed in Lafayette.
Filing a petition, not a complaint.
You win an injunction, not a judgment.
Fair housing complaints to HUD – can submit forms complaining about city.
Sean Donovan appointed someone good to lead HUD in early Obama years.
Build relationships with local HUD officials.
Hard to communicate laws about public housing
Show Me A Hero
Use the courts where political possibiliy is limited (like Lafayette)
Quitam(?) – you can sue the federal government for defrauding a private party ?
SF folks have not pursued that strategy, but perhaps it’s viable?
HUD is unlikely to go out on a limb and oppose suburbs which stop development.
still can be sued while
Regarding the lawsuit
They initially filed, then filed an amended writ
Hard to find attorneys without conflicts – attorneys rely on connections too
Inclusionary zoning is a controversial tool. Need to extract as much surplus (“get more affordable housing” in a project) without killing it
Rec’d reading: Housing Scholars Amicus for Inclusive Communities Project
They want to file suit against Bay Area for having onerous housing restrictions
In Yuma case, developer was asking for smaller lots for SFH project.
Suing under housing accountability act
Need a place to sue that have activists supporting the case. If certain density restrictions are illegal.
They do not have a pro bono attorney. Looking for a good example of a place to sue which is “willing” to be sued.
Session 3: Sacredness of SFH zoning
It’s making it difficult to add more housing stock
Palo Alto has protected SFHs, causing existing lots to appreciate in value to an extreme.
Affluent neighborhoods in bay area are not being asked to take on density.
“Rethinking Single Family Zoning”
FDR was an anti-urbanist – this was before 30-year mortgage. He wanted to move people out of cities. Gave speech at commonwealth club lamenting lack of capital by families. Said US gov needed to help provide assets.
Palo Alto rezoned in 1978: primacy of single-family home.
Sonia Hirt “Zoned in the USA” – SFH is perceived as sacred
by 1920s, SFH districts make up half of land in city (also from Sonia Hirt)
Suburban Downzoning has regional impacts
Pressured by history
FHA loaned money to white people in the 1930s (redlining). Ancient inequity.
Also banning missing middle housing
very idealized way of living.
Steven Smith @marketurbanism
in nyc, build with 3 units cross, it was a SFH, but with 4 it was a tenement.
Stewart Brand – “How buildings learn” (is this same Stewart Brand from Whole Earth?)
In Japanese housing market, houses depreciate like cars!
Lots of people in Houston, Brooklyn, Tokyo, live in SFHs. Even in dense urban areas
Asking about optimistic
CA has ADUs – as granny flats, it’s easier to talk about
People who don’t own
People who bought recently – that SFH is their asset, so they are most NIMBY.
People on the older end (people who priced out their children). There are people who wan
People who ride the metro and are anti-highway are more pro-growth (ben ross comment)
HALA’s discussion about SFHs as racist really touched a nerve in media.
Concrete loss vs abstract gain.
eichler design in palo alto
How Do Single Family Homes Look Different In Different Areas?
airbnb showed lots of pictures of hosts, elderly hosts, putting a face on things. Smart political tactic.
NIMBYs love tiny homes but hate tiny apartments. Microunits take years to build, with financing.
How many americans live in mobile homes? they’re like the original tiny homes.
Some rando just seriously mentioned Agenda 21 and wants to abolish all affordable housing. Time to wrap this up.
Session 4: Data Requests and Using Data to Tell a Story
So, I gave this presentation along with someone else (whose name escapes me and I feel awful about it right now because she was awesome) and it went really well! Unfortunately, I have few notes, but I’ll paste them here. Feel free to reach out if you have questions about filing data requests!
Open Austin created a scraper to get development data.
They have Socrata.
Austin Housing Density and Affordability Analysis
Local Board of Realtors often have access to housing data
Austin allowed much more apartments in their downtown, and it may have slowed existing rent increases.
Average goes up but what is the value of existing housing stock?
Check out scatterplot of housing data.
Should I make a data request for past selling data.
(Side note: Minneapolis needs a housing committee)
Need an emotional story combined with good data:
Maybe need to create your own data – go out and interview people.
Go out with clickers and check mode share – buses vs walkers vs car drivers.
Session 5: Building YIMBY Alliances – Matt VanderSluis
How do we get wins on the issues we care about collectively?
Greenbelt Alliance – SF bay area group promoting compact, walkable development; preventing sprawl. Have 7 million people today, 9 million over next generation. Want to protect agricultural lands and provide enough housing for humans to live. 18 staff people.
GA has a “development endorsement” program.
Speaker is most excited about empowering folks to influence how their communities grow.
Story time! Mountain View is sleepy suburban community, but facing obvious growth issues. Two train stations. Castro Street is the one lively strip in MV. But many empty parking lots and opportunities.
In 2008, city updated comprehensive plan. Four years after they sent someone, the plan calls for 8000 new homes in place that has 34000 homes. Success! Passed with a 6-1 vote where votes were contentious previously.
Developers can bump up density, height, if they give community amenities.
Winning strategies: building the base and cultivating leadership.
Want 20 people at a council meeting? Get a list of 200 supporters. Need 200 supporters? Talk to 2000 people!
Pounding the pavement is key, plus keeping people engaged through events.
Also, figured out key events to rally supporters around and did phone calls, emails, talking points, etc. And made people feel like they were getting a “win” from the process (avoiding burnout!).
Also allowed 9000 new homes near Google Campus several years later.
Building leadership within the campaign is also important to continue engagement. Found 5-6 people who were most engaged and helped get people into appropriate roles. Did trainings for how to run meetings, do outreach, etc.
Organize! If your list of people isn’t growing, it’s shrinking. Keep pounding the pavement!
Question from Josh: how to engage your friends in this conversation? People who might be most supportive might know the least about YIMBY movement. Especially learn how to engage with people who aren’t currently civically engaged.
Another anecdote from Benjamin Ross: 5-6 people started an anti-NIMBY group. They learned that everyone loved the map of where rail line would go through Washington DC metro. Raised money and printed color flyers. Had coupon on the back of flyer to join pro-rail group for $10 and got back 120+ responses. They then distributed the flyers door-to-door and also got a great response rate. At one point, paid membership was 1200. They distributed scorecards rating candidates on where they stood re: rail. Some council members thought these scorecards represented their margin of victory in election. Passing out rail cards at a metro station is targeting supporters.
Need to engage people who want to solve the problem, not people who want to make noise.
How do we find supporters for YIMBY issues who aren’t already engaged? How do we interact with people who aren’t like us?
Advice: get coffee with a lot of people. Determine if they have enough common values. Find as many people who share your values. Talk to people about what they want from their community: making it more affordable, making it more walkable, etc.
Need partnerships to provide support to smaller groups that don’t have infrastructure or experience with organizing.
What about having meetups around urbanist topics.
Good idea, but one challenge to that is that it’s a bunch of complete strangers. But keep being social – you can’t have too much fun!
Got a small budget? Could be $ well-spent on food and drinks at the bar for a meetup.
Boulder has tours of under construction buildings that are open to the public, but usually only council members go on them. That might be going on in other towns?
In Berkley, East Bay Forward does monthly meetups and happy hours. They get new random people each time – people feel engaged.
With YIMBY groups, it’s important to focus on what can be a “win”
A staff person sometimes can have a huge impact as opposed to volunteers. Prevents burnout and leverages expertise. Can leverage cheap tools technology like Nation Builder, etc.
Are neighborhood associations NIMBY incubators? Is it worthwhile to engage them or get on the board? Response is mixed, but it might be a good place to find people who care about n’hood issues. Maybe find people who have been kicked out of n’hood groups!
Session 6: How to turn NIMBYs into MIMBYs
Erica Barnett and Ben Gould
Erica is a Seattle journalist writing about urbanism and homelessness. Writes recently about addiction. Seattle trying a “safe inception” site – place where people can do drugs freely (harm reduction). N’hood NIMBYs thought all crime was due to drug abusers, but maybe are coming around to the idea of safe inception sites.
LEAD – Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
LEAD doesn’t arrest for low-level crimes, but asks them to check in with cops weekly. NIMBYs liked it because it did reduce crime.
Neighborhood Safety Alliance (NSA) (NIMBY group) went to check out out safe consumption areas and liked the idea and helped change the conversation about the idea of safe inception sites.
Seattle has an older woman CM that speaks to NIMBYs without being condescending, which helps with engagement. That person is a good messenger to that group.
Can the same type of engagement work around housing? Seattle tries to scare people with threats that “Seattle will become SF”.
Some Boulder council members went to Portland to tour communal homeless shelters which was very eye-opening for Boulder CMs. In Seattle, there are lots of tent cities and they tend to be self-governed.
Ben Gould, Berkley mayoral candidate – “Everyone is always right”
NIMBYs in Berkley wrote an op-ed opposing a 5-story building. NIMBYs often feel like things are just too big and too close to them. Need to listen to people and acknowledge their feelings – makes a real impact.
Gov Brown’s by-right housing proposal: 20 percent of units are affordable, then things are not subject to review. NIMBYs have an op-ed opposed to this. They see this as inequitable and threatening their way of life.
Not always worthwhile to engage with people who ignore facts or are only interested in trolling on twitter/FB.
Extremists can serve a role, making ideas like upzoning more land seem more reasonable.
Berkley has ranked choice voting.
Where does Ben draw the line with listening to NIMBYs? He doesn’t really, but may listen to people less at certain times. Regular engagement helps prevent echo chamber conditions.
Adding comments to online op-eds can help change the narrative of the piece, which happened regarding the NIMBY op-ed.
Are people who are NIMBYs perceiving change at a different rate than the rest of us? Different people can get the same data/inputs but perceive things in a different way.
People can be concerned about traffic. YIMBYs and NIMBYs can maybe agree on that? Saying that traffic problems aren’t caused by people, but are caused by cars, can help.
Some people like change, but some people are stressed by it.
One way to engage with NIMBYs who may be older is to move past their own land use experiences and talk about their kids. Many of their kids can’t afford to live in the areas their parents do.
What other emotional drivers can help? Maybe The Right to Age in Place – staying within your own community but maybe moving to a smaller property. NIMBYs sometimes think development will make it harder to age in place.
Session 7: Inside City Hall
Ben: Legalized ADUs, reduced parking minimums along high-transit, allowed for homeless shelters to be built, adopted protected bikeway plan for entire city, got complete streets and paid sick leave passed.
Greg is senior aide to mayor tom bates of berkley. If people in power don’t want to support things, it’s hard to create change.
Greg: once you get involved, you start seeing the same people over and over. Politics is a small group of people.
Ben: Minneapolis is very accessible. You can get things done with as few as 10 people. Minneapolis has a pro-growth council. Getting just a few people to show up is a big deal.
Mayor from Alaska: one election can change things. Run for office!
Greg: even a progressive council needs “cover” – lots of older progressives have time on their hands and are often skeptical of development. Those people just show up. It’s easy to send messages to throw everything off (HALA leak in Seattle). Merchants killed BRT in Berkley. People often show up to oppose things, rarely to advocate for them.
Ben: Doing email only fuels the idea that people don’t exist.
Mayor from Alaska: you know you’ve touched a nerve when emails show up.
It’s hard to get people to show up at council meetings.
Getting new people involved is very important. New faces are taken seriously.
Ben: Meeting times are a problem – often at 9:30am, except for planning commission. People who have day jobs or variable hours cannot attend.
NIMBYs often stress their proximity to development and discredit those who are further away. NIMBYs use their knowledge of variances, CUPs, etc. to seem intimidating. Familiarize yourself a bit with what’s happening and stick to it. If it’s a variance, stick to the topic of the variance.
Greg: NIMBYs did a referendum on a downtown rezoning. People delay things with appeals, then lawsuits.
Ben: getting coalitions together on things make good proposals unstoppable
My question: what’s the best way to influence if you can’t get people out? Emails, op-eds, getting people on a commission?
People who show up are often retired or work for non-profits that are related to .
The process of public comment empowers certain classes of people and not others.
Getting respect for your organization is important.
Elected officials are real people. Personal one-on-one meetings can be very beneficial.
Op-eds are extremely powerful tools. Shame is a powerful tool if something isn’t getting done.
Cities know that only certain people show up. It’s hard to engage with individuals often.
Throw some fun parties and invite elected people there!
Not much weight to online petitions.
Sending people to city administrators is a good idea for introducing the impact of new things (like ADUs, etc.)
Do “threats” work? Not really, and they shouldn’t (unless someone only cares about getting elected).