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ArlingtonOpinionCommentary: More housing options will benefit everyone

Commentary: More housing options will benefit everyone

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by JOE JAMES, YIMBY Action, Northern Virginia chapter

A recent letter to the Sun Gazette asked “Who is actually behind Arlington’s Missing Middle proposal?” – a legitimate question, given the size and scope of the county’s proposed housing framework.

Unfortunately, it devolved into conspiracy theories about the Northern Virginia Chapter of YIMBY Action (YIMBYs of NoVA).

Many of the claims of the letter are verifiably wrong. I would know – I’m the YIMBYs of NoVA advocacy coordinator for Arlington County.

Let’s correct the record.

First, YIMBYs of NoVA believe in the basic laws of supply and demand when it comes to housing. If more people move to an area, more housing needs to be constructed – both market rate and committed-affordable units – to maintain price stability and prevent displacement of current residents.

More housing construction will increase housing supply, not decrease demand, as the letter-writer claims. This means that prices will remain the same or lower than they otherwise would be, so long as that increased supply matches or surpasses demand. It is our hope that Arlington and all of Northern Virginia construct enough housing so that one day soon, the price of housing does decrease.

In this way, the YIMBY hypothesis is simple: If we build less housing than is demanded, prices will increase; if we build more housing than is demanded, prices will decrease; if we match demand, prices will remain stable.

We look at Arlington County population estimates, which forecast a population increase of about 40,000 people in 2045 relative to 2020. If we don’t build as much housing as fast as we can now, we’ll be in a much bigger housing crisis than we are now.

YIMBYs of NoVA believes that the Missing Middle housing framework is one of many tools needed to increase housing supply, and a necessary but insufficient policy to solve our housing crisis. Though the framework is not a committed-affordable-housing program, it will increase housing-unit supply, causing the price of housing to be more affordable than it would be if we continue replacing small, expensive houses with giant unaffordable McMansions.

Second, the letter speculates that we’re an ominous front for developers and billionaires because of a false insinuation that we are funded by Peter Thiel. To be clear: We are not.

What’s more, under the principle “no good comes from billionaire donors,” there is quite literally no good advocacy organization. To name one example, the Food Research and Action Council (FRAC), which has done tremendous work fighting food insecurity in the United States, including advocating expanding free school lunch and increasing SNAP benefits, is funded by big-food businesses like Nestlé, Pepsi, and General Mills, each valuated in the range of billions of dollars.

In the same way fighting hunger serves the interest of big food companies, so too does building more housing serve the interest of big real-estate developers. But you know who else benefits from an abundant supply of food and housing? The people who eat food and need housing – that is to say, everyone. Neither producing food or building housing is a zero-sum action.

The rest of the letter is a hodgepodge of anecdotal horror stories about incivility (that YIMBYs have also experienced), unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and ad hominem attacks.

We advocate for housing abundance because we reject this kind of thinking. We embrace people for their diversity, even if we disagree with them, but we will call out these divisive sentiments, especially when they indirectly lead to less housing being built.

But if you still distrust us for our position on the framework, you don’t have to listen to us. We’re simply one organization among many raising our voices to open our communities to more people through an agenda of housing abundance, from the NAACP to the Sierra Club to the overwhelming majority of renters who support more housing options.

If you want to learn more about what we believe, you’re welcome to visit our Website at https://www.yimbysofnova.org/. This movement is a diverse one, consisting of people of different races, ages, economic backgrounds, genders, sexualities, political ideologies, housing types, religions and more.

On many subjects we disagree, but what unites is one mission: We must build more housing, in as many ways as we can.

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