Fight or flight? YIMBYs and the exodus to smaller towns

Slate has an article about people departing larger cities for the “greener pastures” of small towns.  It’s something that has had me thinking a lot lately.

The damage that excessive housing regulation (restrictive zoning, parking minimums, etc…) in our most productive places can be quantified in the billions of dollars.  Foregone jobs, more expensive university costs, companies that have trouble hiring, and people struggling to meet rapidly rising rents are all part of the problem, and have been amply documented.  The average price of a house in much of the most economically productive parts of the California Bay Area is in the millions of dollars and many residents fight tooth and nail to prevent more from being built.  Their “I’ve got mine” attitude hurts those less fortunate, as well as many companies who have trouble hiring.  It makes for a society where people critical to its well functioning like police, firefighters, nurses and teachers cannot afford to live in the towns they work in.  As much as remote working is a possibility in the tech industry, it’s still not the norm, and perhaps you lose some of those serendipitous connections when people aren’t all in the same place, bumping into each other at parties or meetups.  There are a lot of reasons to be against local rules and regulations that are one of the primary impediments to more affordable housing in the areas that lead the nation in productivity.

Indeed, the YIMBY ( Yes In My Back Yard – as opposed to Not In My Back Yard or NIMBY ) movement has risen to fight for more housing supply, and more variety in housing supply.   The first YIMBY groups were, to my knowledge, formed in California ( https://yimbyaction.org/ ), but they’re springing up everywhere the housing crisis is having an effect.  I have even contributed to starting one here in Bend: https://bendyimby.com/

That is going to be a difficult fight against people who have a vested financial interest in housing scarcity though: in places like California and Oregon, there are caps on the amount property taxes go up, so homeowners get all the benefits and few of the costs of rising prices.  And in any event, many people have a preference for smaller towns, be it because of cheaper land, knowing the people in their community better, being closer to nature, or similar reasons.  The ability to work remotely is giving a lot of people in the tech industry, and beyond, the opportunity to make that choice for themselves.  There’s also something in the American mentality about there always being a ‘new frontier’, a better place to move to, that pushes people to explore new places.

My family is pretty happy in Bend, Oregon, although we’re facing the same housing affordability struggles that other areas have already gone through, and I’m always curious what other places people are exploring and moving to.  The western US has a lot of small towns in beautiful places, with mountains, rivers, trails, forests, deserts and an abundance of natural beauty.  Besides Bend, some that I’m curious about are Prescott, Arizona, Fort Collins, Colorado, and Chico, California.

Do you live in a smaller town, or are you curious about one that looks nice to you?  I created this survey for “Great Towns”: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1W-Bj9G9eo3TCFTkPPYnGmWE42fxYUSB3yt68DVjIwb8/edit – if you leave your email address, I’ll share the results with you!

What do you think the overall direction will be?  Will the YIMBYs win and make it easier to live in cities? Or will there be a movement towards more affordable places as it becomes easier to work remotely?

 

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