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Letter to an “Anti-capitalist YIMBY”

HOUSING POLITICS - I was intrigued by a recent article in The Daily Beast with the double-edged title: “Yimbys Could Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis if They Weren’t So Busy Being Trolls.” 

So I wrote a letter to the author, asking for clarification on one really big question I had after reading his article and a biography blurb. 

I didn’t get a response. I didn’t really expect a response.  I’m wondering if the email address from the author’s website is even monitored. 

At any rate, I was less intrigued by author Freddie deBoer’s description of Yimbys as “trolls,” and more his rather generous acceptance of the Yimby prescription for housing policy.  You see, deBoer isn’t just a run-of-the-mill aggrieved Yimby millennial, who grew up unhappy in suburbia and feels the world hasn’t given him his due.  According to Wikipedia, deBoer is a “Marxist of an old school variety.”  This puzzled me.  What’s a Marxist doing, telling Yimby trolls to mind their manners, while accepting the deeply neoliberal, Lafferian, Mundellian, utterly Market-based Yimby dicta on the housing market? 

I thought getting a response was a longshot, so I included a provocative header: “Note from a Nimby on Yimby trolls.”  I guess it wasn’t provocative enough. 

Nonetheless, here’s what I wrote… 

Dear Freddie, 

OK, the header was really just to get your attention. In reality, I’m a steady-stater degrowther, who admires a lot of what Bernie stands for (except for his policies on Israel), whom the Yimbys/Wimbys most definitely would dismiss as a “Nimby.”  It’s simpler for them that way.  That way they can avoid dialogue, introspection, and, in many cases, logic. 

While I agree with the premise of your recent article that many Yimbys are trolls, I’m trying to understand why you seem to agree with the broader Yimby agenda and why you think they could “solve” the affordable housing crisis with their decidedly Market-based approach.  As I understand it, you’re an anti-capitalist, Bernie-loving, socialist-leaning writer and critical thinker, perhaps even with Marxist tendencies. 

While I understand the appeal of “stick it to the ‘wealthy’ homeowners,” I don’t quite understand the rest (and let’s leave out the fact that close to 70% of Americans are homeowners and the vast majority are hardly wealthy).  Where’s the “stick it to wealthy developers, Wall Street, global capital, and private equity, who are strictly using housing as a financial instrument”? 

How does a dude like you buy into density fetishism which is rooted in a neoliberal push for growth, with the (very Reaganomic) notion that unleashing the Market will somehow “solve” the housing affordability crisis?  I just can’t see how supply-side fantasies and putting the Market in charge of housing square with any notion of anti-capitalism. 

“Anti-capitalists for neoliberal Yimby policy” would seem to be a group on a level with “Meat-eating vegetarians.” 

On the other hand, I would think you might subscribe to anti-speculation housing policies, which attempt to curb the takeover of housing by Wall St. & Co.  Even though I’m coming from a decidedly more bourgeois (tempered by a very anti-corporate and folkhemmet Swedish sensibility) I would think you might support some of the suggestions I’ve made to decommodify housing, in addition to having a few non-neoliberal ideas of your own. 

Not sure if you’re familiar with the organization Up for Growth, but their strange bedfellow board made up of self-styled “progressive” Yimbys (which has in some ways led the term “progressive” to lose its meaning) and developer, Trumpers like the chairman emeritus, Clyde Holland, is emblematic of how Yimbyism is not at all about solving the affordable housing crisis, but about forced growth, plain and simple. 

I get it that Yimbys have created a narrative in which cities, zoning, local communities, and “selfish homeowners” are to blame for all of our housing woes, with equity, affordability, and the environment being the three biggest buzzwords. None of it holds water (happy to get into it with you if you’re interested), but it does support their goals of upzoning, the elimination of single-family neighborhoods, and forced density.  And, as I’ve written, forced density is really nothing more than a proxy for forced growth. 

It always brings me back to my favorite Greta Thunberg quotation that Yimbys so studiously ignore: “Here we are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can do is talk about money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.” 

Would love to hear your take and/or enter into a dialogue… 

With appreciation for your article and regards,

John (Mirisch)

 

PS I wouldn’t describe the recent anti-community, preemptive laws that have been passed in California and elsewhere as a victory for a group of “cool outsiders.” If anything, they are a victory for the Urban Growth Machine and the most insider-y of political insiders, namely well-funded “magic of the Market” pro-growth groups like “Up for Growth.”

 

Still curious about possible answers to this oxymoronic conundrum. 

Still wondering what the philosophical underpinnings of a neoliberal anti-capitalist are. 

Still open to a dialogue, Freddie, if you ever read this…

 

(John Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009 and has served as mayor three times.  He is currently a garden-variety councilmember.)