Urban Journalism Institute

Cities of Yes to face the housing crisis

Large cities in the United States are witnessing an increase of the YIMBY movement, short for “Yes In My Backyard”, in response to the lack of affordable housing. Rezoning, repurposing, infill and more density in the urban centres are no longer demonized. The concentration of new affordable housing in low-income neighbourhoods, which perpetuate inequalities and discrimination, is at the centre of the political debate. A critical and transformative focus on land use planning is finally happening.

The Mayor of New York, Eric Adams, published an article in The Economist (The World Ahead 2023) advocating for saying “yes” to new housing as a first step to contribute to the end of the housing crisis. Because, basically, he said, “we are not building enough housing”. He announced alterations to zoning regulations to “make it easier to build new homes that will support families of different economic means and right the racist wrongs of the past.” Other democrats’ cities, such as Boston, or states, such as California, are working in the same direction as a solution to high housing costs and homelessness. 

The YIMBY movement as a pro-housing advocacy platform is not new. However, it is gaining more momentum than ever. “The politics of housing are shifting for the first time in decades as elected officials have voiced support for pro-housing reforms that would’ve been dismissed out of hand just months before”, wrote Annemarie Gray in City & State New York on 28 December 2022. Gray was the housing advisor to former Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor Eric Adams. Since October 2022, she is the executive director of the pro-housing non-profit and volunteer-led organization, Open New York (ONY).

The approach of the YIMBY movement supports increasing the supply of housing through repurposing obsolete buildings into housing or rezoning and allowing denser housing to be produced in privileged neighbourhoods. For example, Open New York championed a coalition proposal of 21 groups for rezoning SoHo and NoHo to increase the allowable amount of housing in both neighbourhoods. The rezoning was approved by Mayor de Blasio, at the end of 2021, including 900 affordable housing units.

In 2017, the city passed the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) law, which requires developers to include at least 25-30 per cent of affordable units in new residential projects. The “redensification” of urban centres is not only directly impacting social and economic integration but also helps to reduce the climate footprint of the cities. 

The state of California approved new legislation in 2022 on major land use reform aiming to increase housing density in urban centres, and streamline the housing approval process to increase housing units for middle- and low-income households. 

Governor Gavin Newsom certified San Francisco’s new housing plan on 1 February 2023, which calls for the creation of over 82,000 homes in the next eight years – more than tripling the city’s previous 10-year, annual housing production average, with more than half being developed as affordable to low- and moderate-income households. The Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, said during the plan’s launch that “this is essential for our economy to recover, for working people to be able to afford to live near their jobs, for families to grow and thrive, and for government to tackle critical issues like homelessness and climate change.” 

In addition to adding more housing in high-opportunity and centrally located neighbourhoods, YIMBYs have also been pushing for other policies for better tenant protections, such as rent stabilization and tenant rights. Open New York has just published their 2023 Policy Agenda and has announced being part of a “new state-wide pro-homes coalition”, New York Neighbors, to increase housing supply and create more affordable homes to tackle the state’s debilitating housing shortage. 

The Regional Plan Association of New York is one of the 35 members of this new coalition. Their latest data indicates a need to build over 800,000 housing units (9.8 per cent increase) during the next ten years in New York State to address current needs and meet expected population and job growth. Those numbers are consistent with Governor Kathy Hochul’s recently released strategy to address New York’s housing crisis, the New York Housing Compact. 

New York City, United States © Jose

The first official statement of the New York Neighbors has been released on the unveiling of Hochul’s housing strategy, “applauding this novel dedication of funding to assist municipalities with the approach they choose to implement to increase their housing supply”. 

The New York Housing Compact includes local participation requirements to achieve new home creation targets on a three-year cycle. Municipalities served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where the housing need is most acute, including New York City, will have to rezone for higher density residential development, with a three percent new homes target over three years. 

YIMBYs must work intensively to advocate and educate about the benefits of increased housing development and convince citizens of the need for more housing in the city. Advocating for denser urban centres has been reserved until now for only a few visionaries swimming against the current. If the movement can continue bringing together stakeholders from different sectors and changing land and urban legislation for more affordable housing, we could finally be seeing a path for more equitable and affordable places to live.


The YIMBY movement (Yes In My Backyard) is quickly gaining traction in many cities across the United States, as citizens seek to create more liveable, affordable cities for themselves and future generations. In direct opposition to the traditional NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) movement, YIMBYs focus on creating housing for all, regardless of income or background, and promoting density and walkability. The YIMBY movement has its roots in the housing crisis of the late 2000s, when many cities across the nation experienced a severe shortage of affordable housing. This shortage was exacerbated by NIMBYism, as residents in many cities worked to block development of much-needed housing, citing concerns about traffic, noise, and other quality-of-life issues. 

YIMBYs, in contrast, are working to create more housing in cities of all sizes, while also promoting equitable, sustainable development. They argue that increased density and walkable neighbourhoods are essential to creating liveable, affordable cities. YIMBYs also recognize that many of the issues that NIMBYs cite, such as traffic and noise, can be mitigated by well-designed development, and that cities need to embrace density and walkability in order to create vibrant, liveable urban areas.