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This San Francisco Organization Is Resisting NIMBYism

YIMBY Action Executive Director Laura Clark

A San Francisco organization is using its political prowess to fight back against a growing number of anti-housing activists. YIMBY Action is drafting legislation to promote more affordable housing, recruiting millennials to join in the fight and pushing back against NIMBYs and the current political atmosphere.

"We have to create a new reality where you may buy into a place, but communities grow and change over time," YIMBY Action Executive Director Laura Clark said during a recent housing event in San Francisco. "That is a good thing."

Part of the housing problem was legislated into existence, Clark said. With the passage of Prop 13, existing owners were de-incentivized to move since it keeps their taxes low until the home is sold. To make up the difference in taxes, the costs were passed on to new homeowners, new construction in the way of additional fees and sales tax increases, Clark said. Local governments also have immense control over what gets built.

"We created barriers to entry," Clark said. "It was deliberate and done by existing communities who had the power to keep others out."

People who typically show up to planning and council meetings are the ones who hate the project and have the time to attend meetings, she said. They also are among the loudest in the room. When local lawmakers hear only the opposition to a project, it makes it more difficult for them to push for more housing, Clark said.

An apartment building in San Francisco

YIMBY Action is fighting politics with politics and helped draft legislation that would improve the affordable housing crisis. Its most recent success was the passage of Home SF. An earlier version of this legislation was met with significant opposition as many felt it would result in taller and denser buildings and destroy communities, Clark said.

The legislation was rebranded as middle-class housing and met with little opposition, passing unanimously in May. Home SF could result in up to 5,000 additional affordable units in the next 20 years, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.

The ordinance allows an additional two stories and zoning modifications if a developer building a mixed-income project meets certain requirements. Developers must offer 30% of a project’s units as affordable and the project needs to be close to major transit. The lot also may not contain current residences. While this was a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go in solving the housing crisis, Clark said.

"This was one of 14,000 steps we have to take," she said.

The organization is recruiting younger millennials who have been left out of the housing market. Clark is hoping to work with more young millennials who may be living in substandard conditions or who have to live with their parents after college because they do not have any affordable options. Clark and her team are teaching millennials how to engage in politics and how to get more involved.

"[NIMBYs] have their crazies. We need our crazies," Clark said.