Angry Yimbys Make More Housing a ‘Religion’

After years of not in my backyard argument, younger adults are becoming aggressively supportive of new housing developments, even when they threaten to displace traditional minority communities.

After years of not in my backyard argument, younger adults are becoming aggressively supportive of new housing developments, even when they threaten to displace traditional minority communities.

In what has a man-bites-dog vibe, Millennials are driving a YIMBY movement to promote more housing in big cities as a way to combat rising rents and housing shortages.

The “Yes, In My Backyard” upwelling comes in direct response to years of success employing “Not In My Backyard” arguments. Yimbys believe tight housing conditions are the result of stymied housing developments, causing an imbalance between jobs and places to live.

“The [YIMBY] movement is fueled by the anger of young adults,” according to The Guardian. “Rather than suffer in silence as they struggle to find affordable places to live, they are heading to planning meetings en masse to argue for more housing – preferably the very kind of dense, urban infill projects that have often generated neighborhood opposition from NIMBYs .”

YIMBYs have popped up in places like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Vancouver, BC, and Sydney, Australia. San Francisco is the birthplace of the YIMBY movement, which isn’t a surprise when you learn the city added 307,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2013, but only built 40,000 new housing units. A chapter in Portland can’t be far away.

In what seems like an echo from the NIMBYs of yore, the head of the San Francisco-based YIMBY movement told The Guardian, “It’s clear there is a housing shortage – and the answer is to build housing. You generate policy by yelling about things.”

Sonja Trauss, 35, a San Francisco resident who helped galvanize the movement, dismissed housing shortages in big Western cities as financial or technical issues. “The cause of our current shortage,” she says, “is 100 percent political.” California’s large, influential tech community agrees with her and is providing financial backing for YIMBYs.

YIMBYs associate with progressives by favoring dense development near transit service. However, they have come under attack by liberal groups as “stooges” for housing developers by criticizing “space-hogging” single-family development and favoring gentrification of traditionally minority neighborhoods.

Ground Zero for this class struggle over housing is the Mission District in San Francisco, a lower-income enclave of Latino residents, who are now being displaced by large housing developments, with YIMBY encouragement. Trauss, who is being pushed as a local political candidate, says any new housing is better than no new housing, even if it is for wealthier people and contributes to gentrification. Latino activists say YIMBYs are disrespecting them and their concerns for being priced out of their current housing.

For better or worse, there is a new dynamic in front of elected bodies. Where once only opponents showed up for hearings on housing developments, now YIMBY proponents appear to voice support. And it is having an effect. According to The Guardian, the California Assembly approved a “sweeping legislative package,” with YIMBY support, to spur more affordable housing.

The movement isn’t just a US phenomenon. Vancouver YIMBYs are shaming officials for okaying sprawling developments with few homes. Australian YIMBYs are pushing local officials to allow homeowners to rent out attics and lofts. A YIMBY political party has formed.

Josh Lehner, the Oregon state economist who follows housing issues closely, just posted a new blog indicating the Portland metropolitan area is adding more housing units, but shortages persist throughout Oregon. Affordability, he says, remains a big problem and could get worse as interest rates continue to creep up.

YIMBYs versus NIMBYs may not produce nuanced public policy that recognizes the need for economic development and more housing on one hand, but also greater income equality and affordable housing on the other to avoid displacing families with nowhere else to go.

America Has an Aging Issue, With No Apparent Strategy

Population projections indicate older Americans will outnumber young Americans in less than 25 years from now, which will pose profound challenges in housing, transportation, health care, family structure and politics. We aren’t prepared to address or capitalize on what such a change will mean.

Population projections indicate older Americans will outnumber young Americans in less than 25 years from now, which will pose profound challenges in housing, transportation, health care, family structure and politics. We aren’t prepared to address or capitalize on what such a change will mean.

Public affairs firms like CFM grapple with complex, difficult challenges such as multi-million-dollar infrastructure investments, large residential developments and controversial public policies.

As challenging as those can be, there is a looming challenge of even larger proportions: America has an aging issue.

In just 25 years from now, there will be more older Americans than young ones. No generation is prepared for, or seemingly fully aware of, the consequences.

This is not a bad news story. People are simply living longer. That’s a good thing. But is also can be a challenging thing.

For one, many older Americans lack the financial reserves to sustain themselves for a longer retirement. If you retire at 65 and have savings to carry you through for 10 years, but live until you are 85, that’s a pretty big financial gap, with no ready source to bridge the gap. Many seniors lack financial reserves. As The New York Times reports, pensions have vanished, costs for housing and medical care have soared and older people have reached the brink. As a result bankruptcies by older Americans have tripled since 1991.

Quality medical care is one reason people have longer life expectancies. However, the longer you live, the greater the chance of incurring chronic illness or some kind of trauma, such as a fall or heart attack. Medicare doesn’t cover the full cost of all health care for the elderly. And many older Americans are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Both health care programs are already under financial stress.

Housing is another concern. In addition to rising costs, older people must contend with stairs with ever more creaking knees. There is a surprising lack of single-story housing or housing with main floor bedrooms to accommodate seniors. Higher land costs and the push for greater density create bad market conditions for single-story housing in urban areas.

Optimally, older Americans can stay in their homes, close to their network of family and friends. As people grow older, friends die and family members aren’t always nearby. To stay at home and independent, older people need in-home care, which requires home care workers trained to assist the elderly. There is a shortage of such workers that may be hard to overcome because well-trained caregivers have other, more gainful options.

Mobility is an issue. At some point, older people shouldn’t be driving. They become dependent on others to give them a ride to the grocery store, doctor or a senior citizen center. Nonprofit programs such as Meals on Wheels can provide nourishing meals to shut-ins, but can’t keep up with growing demand. Shuttles, taxis and, someday, driverless cars help, but only for those who can afford them or live in communities that provide them.

Older people are viewed as prime targets by scammers. But friends and family can take advantage of older people, as evidenced by the surprisingly large number of reported cases of elder financial and physical abuse.

Amid this gloomy picture are some interesting opportunities. Many people retain their vitality and ability to work far past age 65. Instead of retiring, these people could contribute to the economy by continuing filling jobs that require specialized skills, assisting nonprofit organizations and mentoring younger people. Think of the movie, The Intern, in which Robert DeNiro’s character becomes a crucial part of the maturation of a recent startup. There also are plenty of examples of older people who volunteer or work for nominal salaries to modernize nonprofit accounting, hiring and communication processes.

One of the best sources of support for older people still living at home are other older people. “Getting older” seniors who still drive become drivers. Groups of older people form clubs or regularly socialize. Older people with medical training or knowledge often make sure their friends see their doctors regularly, take their medication and eat properly.

Efforts are underway to create age-friendly communities that take into account what people can and can’t do easily, which can range from walkable streets to clusters of key service providers. There is an Age-Friendly chapter in Portland that has created an action plan addressing housing, transportation, open spaces (gardens), social spaces and civil rights.

Despite those helpful actions, many older people are left on their own, with little support. Their world collapses in on them, financially, socially and emotionally. Their quality of life suffers and their potential to make contributions to their family, friends and community are sacrificed.

There isn’t a single silver-bullet solution to America’s aging challenge, which incidentally is not unique. China has the same emerging issue, which its leaders recognize will have profound effects on their country’s economy, social structure and political system.

What’s called for is wider recognition of the challenge and how it will affect virtually everyone regardless of age, political views, income or geography. A start would be to view the challenge as an opportunity to enable people who live longer to contribute longer. But it is an opportunity with opportunity costs. We will need to rethink how older people receive care – and from whom – as they age. We will need to fortify programs such as Medicare and Medicaid so they can address growing demand. We will need to modify how we think about older people in the workplace. We will need to view older people as assets, not burdens.

America’s aging issue isn’t an abstraction or someone else’s problem; it is every American’s issue. It will take every American to turn aging from a challenge to an opportunity.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.