A rapidly growing international movement, led mainly by young people but uniting all ages, is demanding urgent action from governments to address the housing crisis in the UK and other countries such as Sweden and the US. We unite under the banner Yes In My Back Yard: yes to more decent, truly affordable housing, with the support of local people, in ways that make places more welcoming and better for everyone. We are the opposite of nimby.
The first detailed yimby call for action from the current UK government comes today in a paper published for the London yimby campaign by the Adam Smith Institute. We estimate that over time GDP could be raised by roughly 30% a year through a sustained period of building many more decent homes, particularly near the best places for job and training opportunities, by radical devolution to small local communities.
That would make the average household up to £10,000 a year better off, while reducing inequality and giving millions of people better lives.
The yimby movement supports council housing, other social housing, and private housing, so long as it helps provide what people need. Everyone should be able to afford a secure and decent home. In the UK, the London yimby group has rapidly been followed by groups and supporters in other places with a desperate shortage of homes – from cities with endless job opportunities, such as Cambridge, to parts of Yorkshire with different challenges.
House prices are facing declines in many parts of the country, so now is the time to act to give the young and the poor a fair chance again. We need to stop damaging their lives. We have failed to give them decent and secure housing for far too long. There is no need for the human tragedy of homelessness, insecurity, appalling rented properties, ill health and long commutes caused by a struggle to find decent housing. The housing crisis is the primary cause of inequality and it is also the easiest to fix.
This country has failed to build enough decent homes for more than 40 years. Part of the reason is that we have no good way of letting cities improve gracefully but quickly over time under the existing planning system, which was designed for very different needs. We need better planning to allow that to happen.
For a year we have searched for ideas for the current government that we think they might adopt. We suggest giving individual streets the powers to add more homes if they want to, with a design code chosen by the street to make sure that the end result is more attractive than what went before. We also suggest radical delegation of powers to city mayors to let them choose to get their city building again, and letting parishes choose to improve their green belt and get other benefits for their communities.
The paper explains why we think other ideas – many of which yimbys would support – are unlikely to happen or to last under the present government. We think some of them are unlikely to work under any government, because of the likely voter backlash. Corbyn and May may prefer different suggestions.
The key is to find ways to solve the housing crisis that don’t involve forcibly evicting people, like estate “regenerations” imposed from above, and can win the support of existing local people by making their lives happier and better. Asking for permission for individual plots tends to arouse a backlash. It is better to let small communities decide what is in their best interest.
The easiest way to boost the economy is by building more high-quality homes and better developments, with the infrastructure to match. Hundreds of thousands of people whose working lives have been needlessly cut short by the loss of manufacturing industry could happily turn their hands back to building real infrastructure and homes again, making the whole country better off.
Building more is the natural answer with today’s low interest rates and below-par growth. Why hasn’t it happened?
For too long we have let this country be controlled by a self-protecting cartel that has betrayed the young and the poor. The incredible surge of energy from young people at the last election shows that government must start to listen to their needs. We urgently need to act together to end the housing crisis. Let’s build a better country.
• John Myers worked as a lawyer, an analyst and in technology before cofounding London Yes In My Back Yard in 2016