Editorial: YIMBYs Start Being Heard in Vancouver

March 30, 2017

san francisco houses and skyline
San Francisco shares similar housing challenges with Vancouver, in that it has a limited urban core surrounded by swathes of low-density housing, causing extreme real estate price rises

Pro-density movement gathering steam as renowned housing supply advocate speaks out at RED Talks

San Francisco housing supply advocate Sonja Trauss has been spreading her message about how her YIMBY movement, which means Yes In My Back Yard, is gathering steam across North America, including Vancouver.

As a key speaker at the RED (Real Estate and Development) Talks at Vancouver Playhouse Thursday evening, at an Urban Development Institute event Friday and in numerous recent media interviews, Trauss is sharing with the world how the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation is one of a number of YIMBY groups advocating rapid, pervasive, increased housing supply to improve affordability and choice. This includes all types of housing forms, from rental to regular market homes to luxury condos and houses, as there’s high demand at every level.

Like Vancouver, San Francisco is struggling from a shortage of housing that many local people find affordable – and rents are much higher even than Vancouver, averaging over $3,000US a month.

Trauss’ group attends community consultations en masse to support increased densification and new housing, whether or not it is in their neighbourhood or the type of housing they want for themselves. Often those types of meetings are only attended by those objecting to a development or asking for a reduction in units or height, so this is an attempt to redress that balance. Trauss' key assertion is, as she told RED Talks this week, "Community consultation is a broken system. People don't want new housing that's local to them. They will complain about increased traffic, not enough parking, too many people for too few resources. But when we ask whether housing should exist, we ask local people. You're guaranteed to have people oppose it, and then the decision makers think that everyone is against it."

She adds that even if you don't care whether or not housing is built, in your neighbourhood or elsewhere, it's helpful to attend consultations and tell the decision-makers that you and all your friends are fine with their development, so that they don't assume the whole neighbourhood is passionately opposed to it.

Trauss and her colleagues have also sued, and plan to sue, local municipalities for promising a certain number of new homes and then going back on that pledge, or downgrading zoning in certain areas to restrict development. No suit has yet been settled.

The group’s approach is unpolished but effective, and Trauss has garnered considerable media attention, including many North America-wide speaking engagments and a high-profile piece in the New York Times.

A local YIMBY group, Abundant Housing Vancouver, is following the same approach and is beginning to attract media interest itself, including this meaty CBC National TV news piece. Like Trauss’ group, Abundant Housing Vancouver attends community consultations wherever it can have a presence, supporting the construction of new homes no matter what their form or design. It also wrote an open letter to the City recently, objecting to the proposed Character Home Zoning Review, which is now being revised. 

Its website says, “When housing choices are limited, the wealthy always win.”

As a YIMBY myself, and a strong supporter of much greater densification in order to house all the people who want to live in Vancouver, it is good to see that young people who are feeling priced out of the market are doing something practical about it. The snail’s pace of development and densification in this City has been a major contributor to the high price of its homes, whether for rent or to buy. Hopefully the movement will continue to swell, more concerned citizens will get involved, and the NIMBYs who resist change become outnumbered, it will start to make a real difference. 

Joannah Connolly has been editor and content manager of since May 2014. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, and has moderated and spoken on several industry panels. During this time, she also spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 20 years of journalism experience in Vancouver and London, with a prior background in construction, architecture and business media.
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