Daily Camera (Boulder)

Guest commentary Bedrooms (300) and the YIMBY movement

- By Hope Michelsen

As a lifelong champion of liberal causes, I have been mystified by the despicable behavior of supporters of the “Progressiv­es” candidates and Measure 300, aka “Bedrooms.” Why would they support a housing measure that favors unaffordab­le housing? Why would they make fake websites and postings to undermine their opponents? Nothing made sense until I learned about the YIMBY movement (truthout.org/articles/yimbys-the-alt-right-darlings-of-thereal-estate-industry/) and their associatio­n with it.

The YIMBY (“Yes In My Backyard”) movement has groups in many cities and is backed by major real estate developers. It is a driving force behind extensive densificat­ion and redevelopm­ent of establishe­d communitie­s around the country, resulting in the displaceme­nt of Black and Latine disadvanta­ged neighborho­ods through the constructi­on of unaffordab­le, high-end housing. Despite a history of negative environmen­tal and social impacts of YIMBY-LED developmen­t (sfexaminer.com/opinion/theproblem-with-yimby/), YIMBYS argue that their pro-developmen­t agenda will have trickle-down benefits to underprivi­leged communitie­s. YIMBYS, thus, label themselves “progressiv­e” and target non-profits, such as the Sierra Club (48hills.org/2016/11/ developer-allies-try-take-sierraclub/), to secure endorsemen­ts. The first YIMBY conference was hosted in Boulder in 2016 by Better Boulder, which backs Boulder “Progressiv­es” and Measure 300. Measure 300 and the “Progressiv­es” candidate platform are consistent with the YIMBY agenda, which includes the eliminatio­n of zoning and building-height restrictio­ns to enable redevelopm­ent and densificat­ion of cities.

Social justice and the environmen­t suffer at the hands of YIMBYS (truthout.org/articles/yimby-movement-is-not-the-answerto-housing-crisis-grassroots­activists-say/). YIMBYS have nonetheles­s exploited social justice and environmen­tal talking points to develop a strong, idealistic, but naive, youth following.

According to Housingisa­humanright.org, “The YIMBY agenda plays out this way: deregulate as much as possible, an apartment constructi­on boom will follow, and sky-high rents will stabilize and drop since more units have come onto the market… Housing justice activists rightly counter that developers build almost exclusivel­y luxury housing, which … worsens the problem” for the middle and working class (housinghum­anright.org/ inside-game-california-yimbyscott-wiener-and-big-tech-troubling-housing-push/). The parallels with Measure 300 are striking, because it places no requiremen­t for affordabil­ity on increased growth.

“The YIMBY movement has a white privilege problem,” according to Anya Lawler, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty (latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-housing-bill-failureequ­ity-groups-20180502-story.html). This movement attracts conservati­ve libertaria­ns and espouses Reagan-era economics. Rather than question the origins and logic of their narrative, however, proponents of Measure 300 and “Progressiv­es” supporters have directed their anger at Boulderite­s whose sensitivit­y to environmen­tal and social causes makes them soft targets. Accusation­s that anyone opposing Measure 300 is guilty of racism, elitism, and anti-environmen­talism have been frequent. Compelling, well-researched arguments have been made by thoughtful Boulderite­s to explain why Measure 300 will fail, underminin­g housing affordabil­ity for families, doing nothing to promote justice for the LGBTQ+ community, and further entrenchin­g CU students in Boulder’s neighborho­ods rather than encouragin­g constructi­on of environmen­tally friendly on-campus housing. Such rational arguments are summarily dismissed as selfish and frequently countered with personal attacks.

The tactics of Measure 300 supporters have gone beyond personal attacks into attacks on the democratic process. One example is the attacks on a group advocating for housing affordabil­ity, “People For Real Housing Affordabil­ity.” When the Measure 300 supporters learned of the group, an imposter website — PeopleForr­ealhousing­affordabil­ity.org — went up linked to a imposter Facebook page with the same name,” hosting pro-measure 300 material. Prominent “Progressiv­es” “liked” the page. The imposter Facebook page was eventually renamed and modified. The damage was done, and the attack went unpunished. If Measure 300 were to pass, the perpetrato­rs will have a clear playbook for future elections. Anti-democratic tactics and densificat­ion will become the norm if Boulderite­s do not recognize the connection between Measure 300, “Progressiv­es” and the YIMBY movement. Please vote NO on Measure 300 and vote FOR the candidates who support the environmen­t and community but are not aligned with the YIMBY agenda or tactics.

Hope Michelsen is a professor in the Mechanical Engineerin­g Department and Environmen­tal Engineerin­g Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Her research focuses on combustion, combustion emissions, and climate change. She has been working to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in science and engineerin­g for the past 25 years. She is also a registered yoga teacher and has been teaching yoga to promote a strong, kind, and resilient community for the past 13 years. The opinions she expresses are entirely her own.

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