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Matt’s arguments are most compelling for home owners who want to sell soon. If you plan to stay a while, it’s perfectly rational to care more about the aesthetics of your neighborhood than property values.

Suppose my city made it easier to construct ADUs. In the short term, the increased property values only increase my tax bill. I could borrow against the increased equity, but only through paying interest. Meanwhile, there’s more traffic on my street and more noise from more residents doing stuff outdoors.

If I were desperate for income and had good credit, I could build and rent an ADU, but that would make me feel crowded and oppress me with noise. The point is, if I like my neighborhood the way it is and plan to stay, NIMBYISM makes sense.

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"The point is, if I like my neighborhood the way it is and plan to stay, NIMBYISM makes sense."

Yes it is true by definition that if you are just against change on aesthetic grounds then all change is bad. It's not a very interesting policy argument to say that people with a principled opposition to anything changes should oppose changes, but I agree with you that it's a correct analysis.

That being said, the point here is that hostility to change is *costly* in a way that change-opponents may not fully understand and that might inspire them to reconsider their hostility to change.

But it really is true that if you look into your heart and say "look, the status quo is perfect and I just don't think anything about it should change" then OBVIOUSLY you should oppose all efforts to change things!

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I detail this a little more below, but I thin there's a more interesting policy argument that in addition to their personal property, people care about their neighborhoods as club goods. I think it's worth experimenting and finding examples of outlets for this desire that are more compatible with the win-win goals you outline above. There's an inherent tension there and to some extent neighborhood as club good would have to lose ground, but figuring out the right concessions there may help win over the marginal existing homeowner that is less concerned with the individual property rights costs.

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

I think you're drawing exactly the opposite conclusion of what people's subjective experience of suburbia is relative to multifamily (I've lived extensively in both) -- the privacy afforded by separate single-family homes creates the slack whereby people *may* actually know and speak to their neighbors. The experience in multi-family dwellings is often better approximated by not only not speaking to people who live literally next door to you -- unless there's some problem they've caused (which is a higher likelihood than would be the case in an SFH neighborhood) -- but not even knowing who they are. Anomie is a function of cramming people in tight quarters under conditions of transient residence and in which interactions are likely to vary between neutral and adversarial.

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

I think it also depends on whether we're talking large-lot outer suburbia or small-lot inner-ring suburbia. I grew up in the former and I honestly couldn't even describe what most of my neighbors looked like, let alone told you their names. I lived in that house for over 20 years.

Living in a smaller-lot neighborhood in college, I had a better sense of who was around me, even though I was only living there for a year.* But living in a small apartment building (a converted rowhome) in Philadelphia, I have a sense of who my neighbors are, even if I wouldn't describe them as my acquaintances.

But going beyond that level, I think you're mostly right that the actual form of housing doesn't matter much to this phenomenon. The one caveat is (I think) that the large-lot form of suburbia (which I grew up in!) really does inhibit socialization just by its structure.

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*Technically, this was in the "central city" of the relevant metro but (1) it was a small metro (central city pop. around 100k, metro pop around 500k) and (2) this neighborhood is (relatively) far from downtown, so the lots and houses were more like what you find in old-growth "streetcar suburbs".

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I didn’t find NYC rental buildings friendly at all. I think it’s the transience factor.

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You "should" oppose change from your own self-interested vantage point, I guess, but that doesn't make it good policy from the broader perspective, or over the longer term.

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It's not being "just against change on aesthetic ground" though. It's being against changes that significantly impact the quality of life in your own home.

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But there are all kinds of things that affect a person's quality of life over which they have no control. Your quality-of-life lawn, to take an example from your comment above, might be my unecological pesticide sink that requires loud and polluting maintenance. But I shouldn't have the right to dictate what you do with your property, and vice versa.

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If, instead of outright blocking an ADU, an abutter had the option to pay their neighbor not to build an ADU, how often would they pay and how much would they pay?

I’ve got to imagine next to never and next to nothing, because the true cost to having an ADU next door is extremely low, even in low-density suburbs.

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Politically, the important question is how many voters like their neighborhoods the way they are and how many want to be upzoned.

Regulations that deter the building of ADUs are only costly to those who would build ADUs (or cash out) given the chance. It would be worth polling “would you build an ADU if local laws permitted and could you secure the money to do so.”. Statewide or region wide zoning would only change things if a significant number of people answered “yes.”

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Anti-ADU regulations are also costly to people who would like to live in an area that lacks sufficient housing.

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Or who have to pay enormous sums for highly labor-intensive services like day care or home health, because the housing costs for those providing the services are so high. Or anyone who would rather their tax dollars go to something other than subsidizing a reality of 'no affordable housing near good, plentiful jobs'.

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Which is why the decision should be entirely removed from your hands. In aggregate, these rational decisions are destroying us.

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Yep! The pro-NIMBY arguments assume that property rights extend beyond the boundaries of one's own property. Taken to the extreme--which is essentially what has been done in a lot of places--that means it becomes politically impossible not only to build sufficient housing, but to site important "undesirable" infrastructure such as santitation garages.

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I live in an exurb, I don’t feel like the face of housing scarcity, and living on a half acre lot seems quite reasonable, and pretty dense when you think about it (my city has 1100 people per square mile even including extensive green space).

One nimby rule I do object to is lawn mowing requirements. They require the grass to be kept short but don’t prohibit mowing on weekends. People who can’t afford landscapers mow on the weekends, destroying the aesthetic value of the outdoors at the time most of us want to use it. If they are going to require mowing they should require it occur during the week

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Morally, you shouldn’t have the right to make that determination for all the rest of the world.

Practically, if you want it to remain an exurb then your best option is to stop the idiots trying to preserve exurban environments in or immediately adjacent to the city so they can be built up.

Unsympathetically, you chose to live in a major metro, expecting stasis is a baddd bet.

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If we required/promoted electric lawnmowers (which are suitable for most SFHs), would that really destroy aesthetic value on the weekends? Personally, as someone who is about to have to sell a SFH (in Arlington, VA) and move back to an apartment, I actually enjoyed mowing my lawn on my days off (at least when it wasn't completely miserable outside, and which were sometimes on the weekend).

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Electric mowers are still pretty noisy if you're next door, but if we reduce the problem to your own mower and your two neighbors, then it's a much smaller fraction of the day that is noisy.

The other thing that a good HOA could do (and I appreciate that they are rare) is co-ordinate times so everyone is mowing at once and the rest of the weekend is quiet.

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We're so far down in the weeds, but we switched to electric and it's not on the same level of noise. With electric, you can have a conversation while mowing.

I really don't like "the HoA has 800 rules about how you conduct yourself in your neighborhood" but I can at least see how a "mowers must be electric" would be a policy we could rationally debate. Gas mowers create negative externalities (noise, pollution) so we could have a conversation about how that cost is born and whether they should be disincentivized.

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I once read an HOA horror story where the HOA of course had ridiculously strict lawn maintenance rules, but also banned lawn mowing at any times not between M-F from 9-5. Since that was at times when everyone is usually at work or school, it was clearly interpreted as a passive-aggressive effort to nudge homeowners into hiring the HOA's preferred landscaping company.

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You'd think the response to that would be the homeowners recalling the HOA board and electing a new one.

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Human powered push mowers should be permitted on weekends.

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I have a mechanical push mower, and it's great. It's a little bit of a workout which for me is a feature, not a bug. And it's quiet, although I have yet to have a neighbor thank me for that, haha. But my next door neighbor ended up buying the same model.

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Is that an HOA rule or a county/city requirement? I'm not familiar with cities mandating grass height

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As a middle-aged homeowner in Seattle, I have to say that NIMBYISM doesn't prevent change or crowded/noise oppression. Our poorly constructed, 111 year old, 1000 sq ft home in Ballard is Zillowed at 850K. Our house is the Horsey Cartoon House (as a Seattle Times digital subscriber I thought that cartoon was bullshit because a craftsman house with a nice front porch is more expensive than 850K).

When they changed the ADU law recently that brought a lot of new construction but even before that - the neighborhood was changing. Most small shitty houses, like ours, were torn down and replaced with the max size allowable, same design, big garage houses that sold for 1.5 million. There was plenty of construction noise. There was the feeling of oppression as a huge 1.65 million house was built directly behind our house with a flashy roof top deck so they can stare into our back yard. A lovely, affluent, Amazon lawyer couple moved in. They moved out after 2 years and another Amazon lawyer couple moved in.

My point is that NIMBYISM doesn't preserve the neighborhood. It incentivizes a shift to a different type of neighborhood with wealthier (but not more) people.

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I'm 99% with you - up until you said the Amazon lawyers moved in and I thought "if only the HoA could prohibit that." :-) :-)

Seriously though, this is exactly right - the neighborhoods change regardless of construction policy, just from the demand side. Amazon lawyers have to live somewhere and have enough cash to bid up the price of tents if that's all there is.

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This is what happened in Palisades DC in the early 2000’s.

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Honestly, I think the purported negatives of legalizing ADU's are vastly overblown. First off, only a small percentage of homeowners would actually build them in practice, even if they are allowed. Most people do not need the money, and would find the loss of yard space, plus the hassles of dealing with contractors to build it and tenants to occupy it not worth it.

So, if ADU's are legalized, maybe a block with 40 single-family homes sees 3 of them actually get built over the next 10-20 years. Can anyone really argue with a straight face that three new people moving to the block over 10-20 years will destroy the neighborhood? That's ridiculous. Residential neighborhoods see much larger influxes in population than that, just from existing homeowners having babies. And I don't see any NIMBY's arguing that neighbors should not be allowed to have babies, lest the kids make noise, or contribute to traffic and parking problems, once they get old enough to get a driver's license.

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You are quite right, Eric. What this also says is that ADUs offer very little for increasing housing abundance and bringing down rents/prices. Not to mention that many people who can afford to add an ADU in the backyard will use it as a home office and a guest house for visiting family and friends.

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The way I see it, ADU legalization is not a silver bullet, but if applied everywhere, it can help. An extra home or two per block may seem tiny, but over millions and millions of SFH blocks, it does add up. And, with zero impact to the public budget and negligible impact to people on the block, there's essentially zero downside to doing so.

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There's not a ton of research, and the research that exists is not great, but a reasonable rule of thumb is that about half of ADUs that get built are lived in by households. That's good enough for me. I live in California, where the housing crisis is acute, and ADUs are one small step to the huge increase in housing that we need.

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But at least some fraction of those usages help with housing affordability, too, right? If they use it as an office that's one less actual office space that's taken up. If it's a guest house that's one less AirB&B per visit, and I doubt people are going to be building ADU's unless they have a lot of visitors.

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tbf, if you have a mortgage and your equity goes up a lot, you can remortgage at a lower interest rate (because you are now a lower default risk), which might well pay the increased property tax.

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we made a big enough down payment that this isn’t an issue.

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Sure. Once you're at 50% equity it doesn't make any difference if it goes up to 100%, but not many people can manage a 50% downpayment.

I certainly noticed a big drop when I remortgaged from my original 20% downpayment to a 50% LTV after ten years - partly because I'd paid off some of the capital, and partly because of an increase in the valuation.

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I think the point about property taxes and selling is a key one - the decision making for someone staying a while and someone planning to sell are different, and the increased value is a bug, not a feature, if you're trying to use your land for shelter.

The big fail here is that in an area with housing scarcity, property prices go up _anyway_. By pursuing NIMBY policies, the municipality ends up with scarcity. Single family home owners are hoarding something (living rights in a space) and that thing goes up in value because _everyone_ holds it back at once.

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Look, if you forgot to do a Ukraine pre-write, you can just say so.

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I live in Vietnam where it is pretty common to price the land and the house separately. And people usually talk about "buying land" the way Americans talk about "buying a house". Of course, that's due to historically valuing the existing structure at something pretty close to $0 in most cases and new owners frequently tearing down and rebuilding. That makes it easy for comparables to separate out land and structure (in the few cases where you attach a value to the structure). Now, that's changing as structures get better, especially in the big cities. But when I bought my house 5 years ago the house was "free" and all I paid for was the land itself.

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That's interesting. For me personally these non-American perspectives on the same problem are really valuable.

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“I live in Vietnam where it is pretty common to price the land and the house separately. And people usually talk about "buying land" the way Americans talk about "buying a house".”

The Vietnam War was ultimately a complete and utter waste of time for everyone involved.

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

An interesting piece. The problem is it assumes a rational “homo economicus.” In real life people have other interests that are not just about money. For instance, the equally rational fear that easing development, though making them richer, would also gradually turn their suburb more urban. Some people like an urban environment, some prefer suburban, so if they chose the latter it makes sense they won’t want to see it change into the former.

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So if they become richer, they can choose to move to a less urban environment. They shouldn't have the right to prevent change.

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But some people like their community and don’t want to move, not to mention that moving isn’t always feasible (ties to existing workplaces, schools etc.). Besides, if we follow MY logic to its conclusion *nowhere* would be safe from urbanizing, I.e. what’s to stop the same changes happening in their new location? Your claim that “they shouldn’t have the right to prevent change” is an ideological one. Other people believe communities can have the right to define their own character at least to a certain extent (e.g. building density and aesthetic). It’s important to recognize that there is no “objective” right and wrong here but that this is a real clash of values that might be partially mitigated by, but by no means is reducible to, material advantage.

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Yes, these are values issues, but I don't believe that communities have the "right to define their own character" in terms of density and aesthetics. There is no legal basis for this "right." Owning property does not give anyone the ability to control what happens on someone else's property unless they purchase a property right, such as a light-and-air easement, from that owner.

In my professional experience as a planner, and my personal experience as a homeowner and active citizen, "character" has served as usefully vague cover for a lot of disingenuous arguments.

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Nope, there is no "right" except to the extent that (political) might makes right.

You get the votes, you change the system. What's the strategy? MY is offering some thoughts as a springboard; that approach needs to be built upon.

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In theory, *nowhere* would be safe from urbanizing, but in practice it wouldn't work out that way - there's not much market for apartment buildings in the middle of nowhere. The issue is that, current labor market conditions aside, there are a handful of metro areas in our country that are really booming with good jobs, and people naturally want to live in these areas. If you want to live in a low-density suburban environment, that's not an issue - our country has a ton of land. But does your desire to live in a low-density suburban environment within commuting distance from NYC, DC, San Francisco, Boston, etc. trump other people's desire/need to live there at all? And with that that, their ability to provide well for their families?

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The natural progression of growth, in the absence of regulation to prevent it, is for rural areas to gradually become suburban, and suburban areas to gradually become urban. If you allow the former, but disallow the latter, you are essentially capping the number of people that can live in urban areas at current levels, even as the total population grows. Assuming that the percentage of people that desire urban/suburban/rural lifestyles remains constant, this means that the urban areas become increasingly scarce and expensive, and the privilege of living an urban lifestyle becomes only available to the very rich, or people AirBnb'ing on a vacation.

Expecting a neighborhood to remain exactly the same for 30 years is simply unreasonable.

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I bet there are also a lot of folks talking past each other and not realizing how different their communities are in age. Your personal experience with NIMBYism is going to be inexorably different if you live in a house from years 130 to 150 of its existence versus years 10 to 30. Your neighborhood and your community are going to have changed in very different ways and at very different rates.

If I look at old satellite imagery (already dating myself!) of my side of my metro area even over my lifetime, the difference is *stark*.

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

Why not move? There are plenty of places you could live that would allow you to fix masonry without government approval, add additions to your home, or turn a garage into a rental apartment.

I don’t necessarily disagree with YIMBY but I also wonder why people don’t leave places where they feel they are poorly served by local or state policy.

One conclusion is that they don’t care too much. While it is inconvenient, the benefits to living there must be higher. Another conclusion is that they benefit financially from NIMBYism and don’t want to take a course of action that could sacrifice the gains they think they’re locked into by moving to a YIMBY place where the value of land might not grow as much.

Why don’t more people “vote with their” feet, so to speak?

This works other ways, too! People complain about their commutes across three counties and two interstates. Move? Nope, out of the question. Two+ hours per day sat in your car is preferable to living somewhere more conducive to your job or lifestyle. Then you must not care very much! Otherwise, you’re free to make a change so do it.

(post-posting addition because it probably matters to some folks: I have never owned property and don't see a way I can reasonably afford property in the present market given my current finances and career path. I am somewhat skeptical of tying up a bunch of money in owning a home, condo, whatever even though property values seem mostly to go up over the long term. I also find it ironic that I can get approved to rent at X but not approved for a mortgage at 2/3 X. Not that it matters much, prices are rising so fast that by the time I am approved for a mortgage, it will not be enough to afford a decent home in most places.)

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I largely subscribe to vote with your feet, but if a place has, say, a lot of jobs and needs to fill them, NIMBY policies, which disproportionately consider the views of existing property owners, impose costs on firms, potential workers, and local and regional economies.

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I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but moving absolutely sucks. Handwaving it away cheapens the rest of your argument if you're trying to persuade random Joe or Jane on the street. They'll quite fairly think you're trying to gaslight them in other aspects of the conversation.

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Could be! I don't mean to handwave so much as to question whether there are revealed preferences at work. After all, tons of people moved in 2020. The US has historically had a high degree of geographic mobility (though declining since about 2000). There is a trend of people fleeing high cost of living locations for low cost of living locations and people seem to be sorting themselves according to political affiliations more than they used to. Moving is not off limits for those reasons but seemingly off limits for reasons of neighborhood zoning? Why not seek places to live that allow you to manage your property as you see fit? There's something uneven about this that I want to know more about.

To put it another way, what is it that makes this one community worth fighting for? What does it have that is so special to you that you would not take the large payout from your NIMBY-inflated house and go somewhere else suiting your values?

And my more pointed question is whether or not YIMBYs in NIMBYvilles are conveniently free-riding on policies they oppose because they financially benefit from the restrictive policies too. Perhaps moving is out of the question because staying put and capturing gains in property values is the rational choice when compared with an inconvenient move to a location where property values are growing more slowly?

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You seem to be assuming that there are cities with an equal mix of other amenities that are less restrictive about zoning. Usually people will only vote with their feet if they are single issue voters. But when there are many factors to consider, their feet might take them one place, and then they vote with their vote to fix the other issues with the place.

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I am to some extent. I guess when looking at the "let's all move from CA to TX" thing, I assume there are enough similar amenities or somehow there is some benefit to the move that makes it worthwhile. Like, I get that LA or SF have a lot to offer that, say, Austin does not. But clearly a lot of people are picking Austin because it seems more reasonable and they don't as far as I know, appear terribly unhappy about their choice.

But I do agree that moving from, say, LA to Oklahoma City would probably be a more dramatic change in amenities and wouldn't be an option for most people without some important other reason to be in OK.

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It’s primarily the price driving that particular set of moves. People sometimes talk themselves into thinking that there are similar amenities, and I suppose if you’re doing a suburb to suburb move or suburb to city move, that might be true.

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Yes, moving is driven by all kinds of considerations! I have moved three times in the past two years and none of these moves have worked out the way I anticipated (knowing that I had incomplete information and that all of this was happening during a very weird time). I expect to move again in the not-too-distant future, for reasons that have nothing to do with price or regulation of housing.

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The American moving rate has declined fairly consistently since at least as far back as 1950, and almost monotonically for the last 30 years.

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/12/16/in-2020-fewer-americans-moved-exodus-from-cities-slowed/

I would say the revealed preference is that people don't want to move, and will probably only move if they can improve their living condition.

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Updating priors. I could have sworn I'd seen the slowdown starting in the 2000s, but maybe the data set didn't look back as far as this Pew data.

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This does not seem to be true about people who are moving out of California: they're moving because they can't afford housing in California.

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

There's a pretty simple reason it's easier to get approved for rent at X but not a mortgage at 2/3 of X: the cost to the other stakeholders if you're no longer able to make the payment. If you're renting, then you leave and somebody else moves in. In a tight market this might even happen within a single monthly cycle. No other money is on the line. The owner might be out the cost of acquiring a new tenant.

But when you buy a house somebody is loaning you *hundreds of thousands of dollars*. You're individually focused on the payment (and in some sense the mortgage amount might even seem abstract), but some entity is risking hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you default on your mortgage, then the house has to be resold to recoup what was loaned and that involves nontrivial transaction fees. Selling a house "is a whole thing," as they say. Big hassle. Lots of effort. Very expensive.

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Another note - people are moving away from NIMBYism and that has huge downsides as a society. People in our country used to move to where the good jobs were, making themselves and (in aggregate) the country richer. But now people move away from the good jobs because they can't afford to live there, leaving those good jobs unfilled, while finding lower paying ones, making themselves and (in aggregate) the country poorer and more inequal.

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This is persuasive to me.

Once reason that I like this chain of reasoning is that it gets beyond the choices of individuals or families within a system of incentives and looks at the big picture harms. I think that's where I also question the value of a purely local activist approach to encouraging YIMBY policy. CA's recent success has come from the state overriding local NIMBYs. I feel like that's a more successful path than trying to drum up support at your local housing committee meeting every week.

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This one too - https://www.econlib.org/a-correction-on-housing-regulation/ by Hsieh and Moretti. (For transparency, the link is actually to a correction, which points out a calculation error that means the original understates the impact of NIMBYism.)

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I hope it's not cheating to cite Matt himself, but he does have links :)

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/18/16162234/regional-inequality-cause

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Feb 24, 2022·edited Feb 24, 2022

The problem is that good jobs are concentrated in a few large coastal metro areas, and large coastal metro areas tend to be quite NIMBY. Moving within the metro is pretty manageable, but moving from DC to Cincinatti (or somewhere) may not be viable depending on what Matt's wife does for work. (And even Matt may struggle, despite working remotely; the extremely politically minded social connections he likely has in DC could make important contributions toward the creativity and rigor of his work.)

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Honestly if there were a major urban metro where the housing politics skewed distinctly YIMBY I would consider trying to move there, but:

1. I have a kid in school, which is a _huge_ barrier to a casual move. but more importantly:

2. at present time, no such place exists. (Modulo, with a ton of asterisks, MAYBE Houston.) It's a fight that needs to be fought everywhere.

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I’m not able to afford a child either! But I’m surprised a specific school matters that much. The going consensus around here was that they’re all signaling and it’s your kids genes that do all the work. It’s something I’ll hopefully learn more about once I make my way in the world a bit more.

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It's not about school quality. It's about the hugely disruptive and unpleasant experience of pulling your kid out of a school where they've made friends and have a routine down.

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All the "just move" advice does is export housing crises. Most of the populated part of the West Coast has a housing crisis. Just move to Spokane! Oops. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/20/business/economy/spokane-housing-expensive-cities.html

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I'd like to know more. My instinct is to say that people move and change jobs all the time, including across states and metros so he costs probably aren't that onerous. But I could be wrong. Maybe only rich people deep into their professional careers make long distance moves. I don't have data saying one one way or the other except that I have moved quite a bit and am not deep into my career and do not have lots of money.

Also, I feel like MY and other who are critical of NIMBY are also critical of hyperlocal zoning and control because if gives all the power to the NIMBYs. It's MY's local government that is requiring him to seek approval from the department of transportation before he can fix a masonry wall abutting a road. It's MY's local government that stops him from expanding his home or turning his garage into an apartment.

So, I guess one logical response is to become a local housing activist and try and drum up popular support in your neighborhood for changes in local housing policy. Another is to live somewhere that lets you do what you want. Another is to do nothing and enjoy the fruits of NIMBYism as your home becomes worth more money than most Americans will see in their lifetime.

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Agreed, the _more_ local it is the more likely it is to be NIMBY I think. If my neighborhood was the only YIMBY in Austin I'd want to move out of it rather than live among a bunch of apartments(it would be a bunch because we're the only YIMBY in the area in this hypothetical) and pay higher property taxes on my now more valuable land. I'd cash out on land (yay) but I'd have to move (boo).

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The problem, or at least challenge, with setting policy at the state (or national!) level is that execution will always be at the local level, through planning commissions, city councils and the like. Since details matter, no state law will ever be able to cover all the contingencies that will occur throughout the state. The end result could be endless state vs local litigation or the former basically calling a ceasefire.

Ultimately, the best outcome is to achieve some kind of consensus and compromise where one side doesn't steamroll the other. Tough, I know, but as Max Weber would say, that's politics.

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I suspect that if things get out of hand almost everywhere, as seems increasingly likely over the coming two decades, the endgame will not be mutual lawsuits and a ceasefire. It will be state governments completely and utterly steamrollering obstinate local governments by pre-empting *all* land use restrictions and allowing their regulation only at the state level.

The state governments are generally allowed to take whatever power they want from municipalities and counties, unlike the federal government and the states, and the pressure to allow construction on the part of a great number of people who are priced out of owning a home will be *immense*.

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This could happen in the end. But it's not that the state ultimately has a different electorate than city government. State assembly members and senators answer to the same voters as city council members. They don't always go in lockstep (e.g., some Los Angeles state legislators supported SB 9 while the City Council unanimously rejected it), but there's still an unavoidable tension.

The true test will be when these upzoning issues become part of state legislature campaigns.

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I thought California was starting to have success(by actually enforcing it) with providing funding based on cities achieving growth goals. That is, you can't cover all contingencies by saying "you have to build housing THIS way", but you can say things like:

"Funding for X,Y,Z is contingent on building new housing based on factors A,B,C" and let cities decide for themselves how to do that.

But maybe there's still too much wiggle room on argument about A,B,C.

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I'm not aware that the state is providing funding to help achieve growth goals. Under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), cities are required to generate zoning plans to accommodate increased housing, if developers so choose, but the process has been swiss cheesed to death in the past; we'll see if it's enforced more seriously this time. That would have to be by litigation, which has had a checkered result in the past.

We'll see if the state changes course, such as by offering more carrots, but note that the state cannot dictate "building new housing" unless it's public housing. That's a private decision. Government can only change what is allowed to be built, by zoning regulations.

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I'm quite sympathetic to this argument, but I do think it under weights how much value people place on the club good that is their neighborhood. As Matt has discussed previously, in its worst form, there's a very ugly history here, tied up with racial segregation. Even in more benign modern forms there's often an inherent class segregation logic to it, by setting often expensive requirements above and beyond the practical effect of land scarcity.

That said, while I am glad not to live in a neighborhood with a HOA, I think that many people do put economic value on the aesthetics of their neighborhood. Similar to the reason that some towns encourage or enforce architectural themes (see Santa Fe, New Mexico).

I think it's worth considering what forms of club good provision for neighborhoods are least harmful to the cause of affordable housing when upzoning single family zoned neighborhoods. Maybe a short list of higher density designs with approval by right and a charette process otherwise. There's a big fight ongoing now in Montgomery County, Maryland and politicians are already offering those sorts of compromises. They certainly not enough to win-over core NIMBYs but I do think. like the RPP proposal, they do help convince some voters at the margin by giving them a more certainty and voice even while losing a veto.

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You had me until the parking plan at the end. No one should have special rights to public space to store their private toy.

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founding

At this point it’s not really public space and the bit at the end is formalizing that fact. If there is going to be land set aside for car storage, then let the people with cars work out the distribution of that land and let them buy and sell it, rather than using it as a battleground in a proxy war about housing.

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You're assuming that the only possible use of the side of the street is car storage. Nope! Two days ago I attended (virtually of course, it's California) a city council meeting in San Mateo where the city was debating taking away street parking on one side of a street to put in bike lanes on an arterial with a lot of bike accidents. The city, and other residents, pointed out that a cyclist had recently been put in a coma by a driver on that street, the street goes to two schools, it's a good location for a bike arterial, and San Mateo wants to encourage non-car travel for climate reasons as well as to decrease traffic. Many of the residents of that neighborhood *hated* the idea; they thought they should be entitled to continue to store their private property on publicly owned land for free.

The bike lanes were approved, but it was close. The vote was 3-2, but the last pro vote had previously in the evening said he'd vote to oppose the item.

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I don't mean to assume that it will be used for car storage. There definitely should be a debate about whether it's good to use it all for car storage, or a fraction for car storage and a fraction for loading zones/bike share station/etc, or convert the entire lane to a bike and/or bus lane. But if you're going to use it as car storage, having a fixed number of parking permits and letting people trade them on a market seems like the most effective way to do that.

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I agree, but the owner of those spaces is the city, not the residents of the neighborhood, and therefore the city is the one that should be selling permits to park there. The city may have to bribe existing residents with cheaper rates for political reasons, but the city owns the space and can rent to whoever. Some have suggested that the city give the spaces to residents and let them trade them; nope, the city owns the parking and the city should monetize it.

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"You're assuming that the only possible use of the side of the street is car storage."

No, this assumption is not necessary. The municipality can always eminent domain the parking permits if they want to convert the streetside to non-parking use.

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I think that this is spot on. The traditional political critique that Nimbyism is driven by homeowners trying to keep home prices high through scarcity has never made sense. It presupposes a kind of rational self interested voter that we don't see anywhere else. It fails to account for the fairly large amount of renter nimbyism.

But more importantly, it also gets the economics mostly wrong. Landowners would mostly benefit financially from a liberalization of the regulations on land use.

Also, I have been proposing grandfathered in RPP for years. It makes sense as a second best option.

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Who your neighbors are is important, especially if you're a homeowner with kids who plans on staying in the neighborhood. And it's even more important if your local government is not doing a great job with noise, crime, or schools. If you're not talking about that stuff, I don't think you really have a great sense of the (non-leftist) objections to new housing. From where I am, I want new construction because there are changes to my neighborhood that will actually be quite positive -- more businesses, and maybe even neighborhood middle/high schools that become viable for us. But there are a lot of people for whom that's not the case.

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I agree with almost everything except "to override his normal Republican Party appreciation of free markets." I cannot remember a time when Republicans "appreciated" free markets. There was a time when less regulation of certain kinds was in the interest of their donor base. But when Democrats started becoming a bit "neo-Liberal" and started appealing to those same donors Republicans started to more toward "identity" issues like crime drugs, immigration, trade restrictions.

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Isn’t your average single family home really three separate assets: 1) the physical structure 2) the land, and 3) the right to have one housing unit at that location? Seems like the economic benefits on #2 could be outweighed by taking the economic value of #3 to zero.

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This is Slow Boring's "Thunder Road"

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It's late in the day so this comment won't get many eyeballs, but it feels like there are a few gaps in the logic here. (For the record, I'm very sold on YIMBY-ism for the greater good, though largely unaffected in the 'burbs).

1. The value of a home (separated from the value of the land) will depreciate over time in most circumstances except for the one where home construction is supply-side limited, either through bottlenecks or regulations. My 2-year-old car is worth more now than what I paid for it new despite its deteriorating physical condition simply due to supply-side constraints. This seems like a point for NIMBY-ism, in a messed up way- make it harder to build and the existing housing stock goes up in value.

2. The value of the land is derived from more than just the potential financial benefit from what you can build on it. The land's proximity to other people/places/things is a major factor, as is the scarcity of available land nearby. Again, NIMBY-ism theoretically benefits landowners here too- "character" makes a space's land more valuable, and requirements for parking and setbacks means you need to buy more land to build the same vicinity. Supply of land is not going up, demand will drive up its value.

Again, I'm very YIMBY, I just don't think it's cut-and-dry win-win for homeowners even if you assume they only care about their property value going up. (And to David Abbott's point, lots of people would prefer their property value NOT go up.)

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A big part of the NIMBY discourse is the cultural distaste for the "evil developer". There are countless tropes and old movies of evil developers doing dastardly things, from the Goonies to Up the developers are portrayed as evil.

I think that these issues require a "good guy vs. bad guy" narrative. Recently some YIMBY's have tried to make homeowners the bad guys in this narrative. That is both factually wrong, and it is a massive political loser, so I am glad that Matt is pushing back on this narrative.

But we still need a "bad guy" for this narrative. I see two decent targets.

1. Incumbent landlords. People who own property who are renting it out do not want to see the development of new property. They like the high rents they are able to charge, and more competition will make it harder to maintain those rents. Many landlords are at the center of NIMBY debates, they want to develop their own properties but block their competitors.

2. Hedge Funds buying existing apartments/homes. Some of these funds explicitly outline their strategy as buying homes in heavily zoned areas where they are confident they won't face much future rental competition.

Invitation Homes tells its investors, “We operate in markets with strong demand drivers, ***high barriers to entry***, and high rent growth potential.”

These firms also have an incentive to encourage the continuation of those zoning policies.

I think that the critique of landlords is truer and has more evidence behind it, but the hedge funds are a much better villain. The main problem with using hedge funds as the villain is that there can be narrow solutions to block them that don't solve the real problem.

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One of the other big problems hedge funds and other "outside" landlords/developers bring is that their activity sucks income out of local economies. If Invitation Homes own your Boise rental home, your rent doesn't go to a local Boise landlord, it goes to Dallas, and then to shareholders. A lot of people are paying 50% of their monthly income for rent; if that rent is leaving their hometown, thats a nightmare for the local economy.

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It’s true that houses do not gain value. A house will never be as functional and fashionable as the day (before) the first owner moves in. But it seems that Matthew is arguing that land (as opposed to housing) does increase in value, as he shows us the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index chart, which slopes upward. That’s not really true either. Land prices go up where population increases, especially near natural beauty or high-paying industries, causing, for example, large price gains in much of California over the last few decades.

But there were correspondingly steep declines in Detroit and the surrounding rust belt, where population declined. I grew up in Indiana, near towns that made tires, transmissions, car radios, and other car parts. Our house and the land it sits on decreased in value (accounting for inflation). As manufacturing moved overseas and agriculture became less labor-intensive, people moved away from industrial and rural areas into cities and suburbs. Large parts of the Midwest, South, and rural areas such as the Dakotas have lost population, and land value.

Over time, the price of “housing” (land and the structures on it) roughly keeps pace with inflation, but the price charts fail to capture the very high costs of maintaining the structures (repairs, roofs, appliances, utilities, flooring, remodels) and the land (lawn maintenance, landscaping, taxes). Generally speaking, we own houses not because they are good investments but because we like the freedom and autonomy they offer. Barring extreme circumstances, no one can evict us, and we can paint the walls a color we like.

Matthew writes, about adding ADUs, “[S]ince most people own homes they will oppose efforts to make housing cheaper and the whole thing is impossible. But recall that the reason taxing land value is hard is that most people own land, and they don’t want the land to get cheaper.” Roughly 65% of Americans own their homes, but a significant minority of these homes are condos or townhouses. While these owners technically (sort of) own land, there’s nothing they can do with it, and, in the case of a 500-unit high-rise condo building, each owner can claim only a few square feet or inches of the land. I like to see this land appraised as low as possible, because I am taxed on it.

To his credit, Matthew explores a range of incentives for and against regulation, but ignores all-important behavioral factors. We’re not supposed to say it, but people who have been less effective at managing their finances are also generally less effective at managing their surroundings. I own a condo with very strict HOA rules governing what residents can put on their patios and decks: no bicycles or other storage items allowed. Only approved patio furniture. No outdoor lighting allowed except a footlight. Even holiday lights are strictly regulated.

A few hundred yards away, there is a high-rise in which a number of units are dedicated to low-income housing. The decks are full of bicycles, trash, baby carriages, rusted charcoal grills, and other unsightly items. While theoretically we could have low-income units with high standards for maintenance and community aesthetics, in reality it wouldn’t work. The policing would be prohibitively expensive, and any attempt at accountability (fines, evictions) would be met with political outrage and cries of racism and other popular -isms.

While theoretically land-owners and renters could both benefit economically from looser regulations, in practice, “affordable” ADUs would probably lead to declines in quality-of-life for current residents, making neighborhoods less attractive and less safe, causing current owners to flee to better neighborhoods, ultimately reducing the land and housing value for all owners.

I live near Denver, where some relatively recent policy decisions to decriminalize drugs and reduce policing have led to skyrocketing crime and homelessness. After decades of an ambitious “infill” project designed to bring residences and visitors to the city and its sidewalks (by requiring new buildings to offer ground-level retail or restaurants, for example), the city suddenly feels empty and dangerous. Many businesses and restaurants are closing, and relatively new high-rises are offering reduced rents and move-in incentives. Good neighborhoods are valuable, and they take a great deal of attention and commitment to remain good.

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Part of the NIMBY syndrome arises from cities not charging for parking on residential streets. Streets are a scarce resource and if people treat them is "free." problems emerge. [This is the exact problem of CO2 emissions. The capacity of the atmosphere to absorb CO2 without harm is limited (scarce), but emitters treat it as free.]

Street parking could be metered and some of the revenue devolved say through a credit against property tax be devolved to the homeowner which they could use to pay for parking in front of their homes if they chose to do so. This would probably work best if all city meters were embedded in a dynamic fee setting system.

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