By Melanie Burgarino, MPP Candidate 2017
In the Bay area, everybody has something to say about the housing crisis. Who is to blame? I’ve got the quick and dirty answer, it’s the NIMBY, and Obama’s got my back on this one. “Not In My Backyard,” or “NIMBY,” is jargon used by planning and policy nerds like myself to describe people or groups who are anti-growth and development. The Housing Development Toolkit released by the White House this month blames the restriction of zoning, density, and inclusionary development for the national housing crisis. NIMBYs thrive on the over-regulation of housing development and often take pleasure in boycotting low-income housing. NIMBYs come in all forms, though often white and conservative, a NIMBY may be a soccer mom on an HOA board or the older home-owning Berkeley hippie. NIMBYism is contextual—some don’t want sprawl or development of any kind in their neighborhoods, others don’t want low-income people moving in. On the other side, some NIMBYs can be conservationists who are equally opposed to rezoning agricultural land to accommodate the development of “McMansion” subdivisions.
Bay area housing conversations frequently focus on San Francisco or Oakland, but the NIMBYs are preventing the development of inclusionary housing in the far-flung suburbs to the East where many low-income folks have been displaced. The city of Antioch, about an hour drive from San Francisco, provides an excellent example of NIMBYism in action. When you do a quick search of Antioch on areavibes.com the vibes aren’t so good: Crime: F, Housing: F, and Education: F. These ratings are pretty bleak, but there’s a beacon on the horizon for Antioch. The long-awaited Hillcrest BART station is scheduled to open in 2017. This station is the window of opportunity many residents have been waiting for, but there’s a strong NIMBY sentiment against developing dense inclusionary rental housing on the Hillcrest site.
Earlier this week I attended a public forum for Antioch mayoral and city council candidates. Proud NIMBY Fred Rouse, running for city council, referred to BART as a “freeway to crime.” He explicitly stated he doesn’t want any housing near BART because it will attract “the wrong kinds of people.” I was shocked at his explicit, blatant racism, but I saw several nodding heads in the audience. Racial tensions run deep in this suburb where demographics have shifted dramatically. In 1990, African Americans represented 3 percent of Antioch’s population, today the African American population is close to 20 percent. This shift is primarily a result of the Bay area housing bubble. The amount of Section 8 households in Antioch grew by 50 percent from 2003 to 2005 and continued to rise after the Great Recession when many foreclosed homes were bought up to rent as Section 8 units. Many low-income families of color have sought opportunity and refuge in the relatively inexpensive sprawling suburb of Antioch. These changes have brought out the NIMBYs in full force. Their “I have mine, and I don’t want anyone else to have theirs” sentiment is as strong as ever. There are several articles on the harassment low-income households have endured by the Antioch police who profile low-income renters of color, and even Section 8 landlords. Fred Rouse’s mantra, “more police will solve our problems” certainly isn’t helping ease racial tensions in the suburban city.
The supply of Bay area housing is limited due to NIMBYism, but also because many developers avoided the bureaucratic California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process which can be laborious, time-consuming, and expensive. Not to mention that San Francisco has been a far more attractive location for developers who can capitalize on the booming influx of techies. To ease some of these supply issues, Governor Brown proposed legislation to increase the production of housing with inclusionary mandates. His ‘By Right’ proposal sought to incentivize developers by cutting the red tape—CEQA regulations and zoning requirements. To benefit from this plan, developers must include 20 percent affordable units, or 10 percent if the project is near public transit, which is majorly weak by my standards. Even though it was lukewarm, Brown’s ‘By Right’ proposal threw NIMBYs into a tizzy and was quickly defeated.
Massachusetts recently reduced development barriers by streamlining approval processes and zoning for developments with 20-25 percent long-term affordable units, and we can too! Don’t be a NIMBY, be a YIMBY—Yes In My Backyard! Lamar Thorpe, Antioch City Council candidate, is a staunch supporter of smart growth development. At the forum he expressed excitement for the Hillcrest station, “BART provides employment opportunities, reduces time spent in traffic for an increased quality of life.” He also showed a passion for affordable housing at the Hillcrest BART station. Community building is key for sustainability. We need to promote walkable, transit-oriented developments which include affordable housing. Smart growth leadership is essential to get the ball rolling on these critical issues. Wherever you live, look into candidates who are pro-growth and development. Vote YIMBY 2016!