The Problem with YIMBY (annotated)

From HousingWiki

This article presents selected excerpts from Andrew Szeto and Toshio Meronek, "The problem with YIMBY." San Francisco Examiner, op-ed, May 21, 2017.


"Last week, Truthout published our article, “YIMBYs: The ‘Alt-Right’ Darlings of the Real Estate Industry,” which investigated the Bay Area’s growing Yes-in-my-backyard (YIMBY) pro-development movement."

After this article was published, Truthout retracted the title and replaced it without the "Alt-Right" descriptor. 


"YIMBYism’s long standing affiliation with right-wing free-market, or neoclassical/neoliberal, economics is precisely what our article illuminated. Rather than a scrappy group of young, liberal-minded “housing activists,” their politics are rooted in racist and anti-poor conservative neoliberal ideologies first inaugurated by Ronald Reagan."

The historical development of YIMBYism is well documented, for example in our YIMBY movement article. It originates with common development concerns, over local opposition to public infrastructure which is collectively needed, for example waste treatment plants (the topic of the first documented use of term) or new transportation infrastructure (in Stockholm, where the first group using term YIMBY was founded, in 2007). 

Likewise, the origins of SFBARF are well documented in media reports from 2014 when it arose, and in the SFBARF mailing list which has been public to join or read since its beginning. It was a citizen initiative of Sonja Trauss and friends, with no outside funding for some time until receiving it's first grant, $5,000, from San Francisco Moderates political party. 


"Further, they collaborate with the real estate industry to rebrand these racist and conservative policies as hip and edgy — this is the “alt-right’s” method of spreading right-wing politics beyond its old white men in suits image."

Despite Truthout's retraction of the original article's title characterizing YIMBY groups as "Alt-right," it seems Szeto and Meronek remain quite insistent on making the association in various ways.  

"Columnist Seung Lee on May 15.. suggests we 'did not read' the 'research' sent to us. This is a false accusation that could be remedied if Lee and others read the sentences following the quoted line, where we say such studies have been challenged again and again as empirical truth."

No, this does not qualify as responding to research, to say that an unnamed set of studies "have been challenged."  The list of materials provided to the writers is known, (see Laura Foote Clark. "Q&A with 'reporter' Toshio Meronek." Medium, May 15, 2017) and they are included with links in YIMBYwiki's Reading_List. We welcome concrete responses to those items, citing counter-evidence. 

"For example, YIMBYs cite a host of conservative economists, planners and sociologists as the basis for empirical validation of pro-development policies’ efficacy. Of note is work by prominent “new urbanist” scholar Ed Glaeser, whom has received funding from the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank. Glaeser, as well as fellow 'market urbanist' Richard Florida, has been challenged extensively by scholars but is branded as commonsense in urban planning."



A recently published book, 'Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,' for example, demonstrates that YIMBY policies — such as zoning liberalization — actually furthers racial and economic inequality. Countless other scholars offer research supporting our claims, including David Harvey, Neil Smith, Rachel Brahinsky, Jamie Peck, Peter Marcuse, Lisa K. Bates, Alex Schafran, Richard Walker and Sharon Zukin. This body of scholarship is strikingly absent from YIMBY’s materials."

These are almost all referenced in YIMBYwiki's Reading_ListGentrification, Right_to_the_city, or other articles, either directly or via the various edited volumes referenced. 

"Lee’s second accusation is that YIMBYs are not a part of the 'alt-right.' It is evident that YIMBY policies are aligned with conservative right-wing libertarianism."



"YIMBYs are copying Donald Trump’s pro-business “trickle down” policies on economic urban development."



"In the aftermath of our article’s publication, we have been the subjects of a mass doxing campaign — a common tact used by the alt-right against leftists. Our personal information has been shared widely over the internet, and our employers and publishers harassed, presumably to have us fired."

Responses to the article have noted that the writers are, respectively, resident in a San Francisco BMR unit won in a housing lottery, and resident in a duplex apartment unit owned by his parents. This, in itself, does not meet normal definitions of 'doxing,' as it is merely describing in general terms a person's circumstances, not personal information which can be used to put a person at risk of harm. In this case, additionally, as with the writer's employment, the circumstance of their housing is obviously relevant context for considering the writers' views.

"It was the racism from white SF BARF ringleader Sonja Trauss, who first argued Latinx Mission anti-gentrification activists were 'like Trump' in a November board of supervisors meeting. In that same meeting, then-supervisor David Campos expressed his own outrage at the YIMBYs’ blatantly racist tactic of consistently labeling actual immigrant communities as 'anti-immigrant.'"

[add references]


"If YIMBYs truly want to house people, why are they not lobbying for the houseless and others to be housed, first? Where are they when our communities are getting evicted?"

note YIMBY groups strong support for e.g. additional Navigation Centers, in San Francisco. 

See also: Purity test


Instead of the pro-displacement politics of YIMBYism, we should center and follow radical housing justice groups led by those most impacted.