The Commission for Stopping Further Improvements
One of the most interesting cultural and political developments I’ve been tracking is the rise of YIMBYism. It’s a term that came out of local battles over housing, in which the so-called NIMBYs—those who proclaim “Not In My Back Yard” and block further development—have imposed zoning and building restrictions that have priced younger and poorer people out of the housing market. So some of those young people have answered by proclaiming “Yes In My Back Yard” and campaigning to reduce restrictive regulations.
This contest has not been and could not be limited to housing. Logically, the issue applies to regulation in general and to all manner of restrictions on building, production, and innovation. It is merely in housing that it is beginning to take off.
But perhaps not so fast. There have been attempts to turn elements of YIMBY policy into legislation on the state level in ways that would override local restrictions. But a big piece of legislation in New York just failed.
Hochul’s proposal, dubbed the New York Housing Compact, would have required New York City and its suburbs to increase their housing stock by three percent every three years and to allow more housing near subway and train stations. Upstate towns and cities would have been required to achieve one percent growth over the same time span. If towns failed to meet these targets, developers could get approval for new housing directly from the state, bypassing local zoning that often limits new housing.
The plan aimed to double New York’s housing growth over the next decade, adding 800,000 housing units to the state’s total supply—a goal both chambers of the legislature signed onto. But the heart of the plan—interfering with local zoning codes—was a bridge too far for many legislators in the Assembly. Without it, it’s highly unlikely that the state will meet that target.
“There were a lot of members who thought they’d get killed in re-election if they were overriding local control,” said an Assembly source. “All the suburban members were very thankful that the mandates are out.”
This is typical. Everyone “signed onto” the goal of increasing the amount of new housing—just so long as that does not require them to actually change anything or override other political goals.
At least the YIMBY idea is spreading. It is being talked about, and with this legislation in New York (and similar attempts in California), it is turning into proposed legislation faster than I expected. But it is still going to be a long battle, and it’s interesting to ask why.