YIMBYs: The Alt-Right Darlings of the Real Estate Industry

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Meronek, Toshio, and Andrew Szeto. "YIMBYs: The Alt-Right Darlings of the Real Estate Industry." Truthout Report, May 10, 2017.

 [Note: the title was later revised to remove "Alt-Right." The characterizations was partly retained however in the text: "In the wake of other 'alt-right' successes, the real estate industry is learning the art of dressing down, community activist-style. Under YIMBYnomics.."].

 

Opening paragraph: 

"In San Francisco's Mission District, flyers pasted on mailboxes and light poles warn longtime residents of the new "conquistadores," the hordes of wealthy tech industrialists who've descended on the neighborhood en masse over the past few years, displacing many in the Latinx-heavy neighborhood to the outer reaches of the Bay Area."

 

"these new tech "immigrants," as Trauss refers to her kinfolk, spell disaster for current San Franciscans. In 2015, the city-funded homeless count found 71 percent of homeless San Franciscans were housed in San Francisco before being pushed onto the streets."

The socioeconomic factor most closely correlated with homelessness is area housing costs. (See Homelessness). Reducing area housing costs is precisely the core goal of Bay Area YIMBY groups. 

 

"Some have given up, leaving the Bay altogether. Others are funneled into modern-day debtor's prisons as regulations against homeless encampments, new jail expansion across the region and increased militarized policing through Urban Shield and other social control projects have coincided with new incubators of this quickly replicating tech invasion, such as Uber's new anchor headquarters in downtown Oakland."

Sooo, the suggestion is that YIMBY groups are responsible for:

  • debtors prisons
  • removal of homeless encampments
  • jail expansion
  • militarized policing

Might the authors explain how there is any connection between YIMBY groups and these.

Also note: consider the history, anywhere and particularly in California and San Francisco, of terms "invasion" and "replicating." 

 

"A founder of the Yelp.com web empire, Jeremy Stoppelman, bequeathed $100,000 upon new Oakland resident Trauss in 2015, with the stated goal of clearing the way for more housing units, even if those units were only accessible to the richest of the rich. That investment helped to spark a libertarian, anti-poor campaign to turn longtime sites of progressive organizing into rich-people-only zones. "

Incorrect history.  Trauss' advocacy and SFBARF began well before Stoppelman's donation. The first funding was a grant from San Francisco Moderates political group. 

 

"while YIMBYism is championed as progressive urban policy, critics like activist Tory Becker of the anti-gentrification direct action group LAGAI, believe [YIMBYism is] actually rooted in the same classist, racist ideologies it supposedly seeks to disrupt."

 

 

"the YIMBYs' "build, build, build" platform only stands to benefit a fortunate few."

 

 

"The reality is that a low-income family of color who has lived in an area for years does not have the economic or cultural capital of the tech-moneyed arrivals.."

Generally true, although there are various factors affecting this balance of power:

  • Rent control, particularly with vacancy decontrol as in California, strongly shifts housing costs towards newcomers versus earlier residents. 
     
  • Proposition 13 substantially shifts property tax burden from older property owners to new owners (and indirectly, new renters). 
     
  • Older resident groups have extensive established advocacy organizations, such as Causa Justa, Calle 24, which have substantial influence in local politics and development negotiations. 

Also, existing residents typically have greater local social capital in the sense of having long-established local ties. Incomers' social capital is probably more in the form of wider social networks, occupation and educational networks, etc.  YIMBY organizations often cite the perceived absence of local social network among newcomers as a motivation for why their groups started. 

 

"Erin McElroy, founder and researcher for the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, told Truthout. 'Disproportionately, those in [YIMBY movement] leadership roles are in tech and are young, white men.'"

Certainly not the case with Bay Area YIMBY groups.  Given that the public faces of the local movement are predominantly female, and have had extensive press coverage, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this misrepresentation is deliberate. 

 

"High-income earners, like the tech workers who can afford market-rate housing, are effectively displacing communities and small businesses that depend on lower-income inclusionary housing and land-use policies, such as rent control that offer protection from unregulated market forces."

Various counter-arguments come to mind. 

In particular, note that inclusionary housing is based on market-rate development, i.e. it only produces housing as a proportion of market-rate development. See our article Inclusionary zoning

 

"In the 1960s writer James Baldwin remarked that San Francisco's 'urban renewal' of its then-Black-majority Fillmore district was 'negro removal.' Under the YIMBY flag, the same is happening today with low-income Black, Latinx and transgender people of color being the core targets of displacement."

[link to Baldwin film]

 

"Just a couple years later, Trauss is now leading an army with soldiers around the world, from Boulder to Bratislava, while dominating the dialogue on how to deal with the very real problem of housing inequality."

see YIMBY movement article for history and overview of YIMBY advocacy. The term originates in advocacy for public infrastructure works, was first adopted by YIMBY Stockholm in 2007. 

 

Trauss's followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it's only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics 'dressed up in a progressive sheep's costume,' according to Becker."

 

"YIMBY brings together community groups, advocates, and grassroots organizations," reads the Toronto YIMBY Party's website. But North America's first YIMBY convening, YIMBY2016, was funded by groups, such as the National Association of Realtors and the Boulder Area Realtor Association.

See (article underway) on questions of funding from and collaboration with other groups. 

 

"With President Trump experiencing a massive drop in popularity, Trauss later participated in a protest outside top Trump-ally Thiel's house. "What was Trauss doing aligning herself with a rightwing conservative like Thiel in the first place?" asks Becker, who believes Trauss espouses 'social fabric-ripping' beliefs that are, in effect, 'white supremacist.'"

Trauss' beliefs, and by extension YIMBY movements, are "white supremacist"? 

Aside from this being an extreme and inflammatory claim, it's worth noting that the core focus of YIMBY advocates typically is reforming land-use regulation and exclusionary zoning, which has long been one of the key mechanisms of white segregationism and racial inequality in the United States. 
 

"Are the people-of-color-led community groups like Causa Justa that supported a moratorium on luxury condo construction "just as bad" as anti-immigrant Trump supporters? Trauss thinks so, calling people who didn't support new market-rate condo projects in central San Francisco "nativists" because they don't welcome with open arms the construction cranes.."

[find references]

 

"When Truthout asked for evidence that the YIMBY trickle-down model would benefit people who aren't making tech salaries, Foote Clark was quick to send a dozen papers that claim to show how neoliberal deregulation will end the housing crisis, and that rich NIMBYs are the main benefactors of further regulation. But tell that to people like Iris Canada, the 100-year-old Black woman who had used local regulations to stay in her home of six decades, only to be evicted in February."

So, articles and peer-reviewed research, vs. an anecdote about a poor elderly woman? The latter doesn't really respond to the former, in fact is so disconnected from it as to suggest that the point is effectively conceded. 

We've got the list of article provided. [add list]. They are mostly also included in YIMBYwiki's extensive Reading List section, and many also referenced in other articles. 

 

"What Foote Clark sells as objective economics are neoliberal policies that Truthout and others have widely debunked -- policies which are set up to kill anyone without lots of money." 


YIMBY policies are "set up to kill anyone without lots of money"? Is this meant to be taken seriously, or do the authors/editors think it helps the article be taken seriously? 

 

"Foote Clark's Oakland-based counterpart, Victoria Fierce...describes her YIMBY organization East Bay Forward as an "anarchist" group that wants to see market-rate housing built now so that in 30 years, low-income people might be able to afford to move here."

First, this is an obvious misrepresentation of East Bay Forward's agenda, which is clearly stated in an easily-found Platform [add link]. 

Second, this statement references a widely referenced but fallacious concept that market-rate housing benefits others only through long-term Filtering. See Filtering page for discussion of this argument. 

 

"San Francisco Ethics office filings make contributions to political organizations like Trauss-ally SPUR available on its  website; the names of the country's largest development companies like Boston Properties, Lennar and Shorenstein consistently show up on these contribution filings." 


This seems to very casually conflate the donors to Trauss [meaning SFYIMBY? CaARLA?] with a quite loosely allied organization SPUR. Why not describe or link to information about the funding sources of the actual group(s) being written about? it is easily available.  [add links]. 

 

"So have progressive nonprofits like the Sierra Club, which faced two attempted takeovers by YIMBY politicos, attempting to control the Sierra Club's stamp of approval (important in cities with progressive-leaning voters like San Francisco or Toronto) on development projects."

note, refers to Sierra Club SF chapter, whose positions are on infill building are notably different than that of the national Sierra Club and other chapters. 

 

In the wake of other "alt-right" successes, the real estate industry is learning the art of dressing down, community activist-style. Under YIMBYnomics, more luxury condos will be built and people like Stoppelman will become richer, as the less wealthy are forcibly removed under a so-called "pro-housing" banner.

Editor's note: This story's original headline, "YIMBYs: The 'Alt-Right' Darlings of the Real Estate Industry," has been amended upon further review to be more accurate and representative of the story's contents.

The story still associates YIMBY movement with the "alt-right," in quote above; as well as associating it repeatedly with related formations such as 'Reaganomics,' 'Neoliberalism,' 'white supremacist.' It seems the title usage was relatively representative of the story contents, and this disclaimer itself is indirectly suggesting that the headline is not inappropriate for the subject itself.