Skip to comments.The NIMBY versus the PINATA Cliche of the Housing Affordability Crisis
Posted on 02/14/2007 9:41:47 AM PST by WayneLusvardi
The NIMBY versus the PINATA Cliche of the Housing Affordability Crisis
The Pasadena Pundit - Feb. 14, 2007
There are numerous factors that reportedly contribute to the so-called housing affordability crisis in California: lack of land, high development fees and exactions, open space and environmental requirements which didn't exist in prior decades, no more infrastructure financing from surrounding homeowners after Prop. 13, etc.
But, perhaps, there is another factor that has gone mostly unrecognized: the dominant paradigm from which we see the affordable housing crisis. It is the paradigm best known by the acronym "NIMBY" (Not-In-My-Back-Yard-ism). Government officials, developers and activists all agree that the most significant obstacle faced when trying to build affordable housing is community opposition.
This paradigm is based on the notions that the housing affordability crisis results from the profit motive coupled with NIMBY-ism and lack of laws mandating affordable housing. In this view, when housing demand exceeds supply only government can provide affordable housing to low income people by expropriation from real estate developers and the productive class. But is this so? Is community opposition the key road block to creating affordable housing?
A problem with the NIMBY paradigm is that the housing affordability crisis can typically be found in communities where there also are politically Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods (PIN's), usually in areas comprised of smaller, older housing stock. Such neighborhoods have historically been the first rung on the housing affordability ladder for first-time buyers.
Activists and politicians in these Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods have used liberal eviction laws and courts, housing discrimination laws, anti-deportation laws, threats of urban riots, high property crime rates, court decisions (Serrano vs. Priest) and the bully-pulpit of local Leftist newspapers to deter would-be non-immigrant buyers and renters and to make room for a politically protected class. First-time home buyers are thus forced out to the hinterlands to find affordable housing; which only further congests our freeways.
One of the consequences of jamming immigrants into block-busting neighborhoods is that housing prices and rents are inflated by immigrants doubling up in old housing stock. The only market power that low income immigrants typically have is numbers. This turns the Marxist view upside down, because it is the "Proletariat," not the "Bourgeouisie" that are inflating housing costs by "rentrification" (not "gentrification").
NIMBY is more than an acronym, it is a political cliché which is more persuasive than any formal academic theory. A cliché does not give an altogether truthful picture of reality. Cliches often function as substitutes for institutions, such as housing markets, whose stability has been overwhelmed. Cliches, such as NIMBY, fill our absence of knowledge about what really causes the housing affordability crisis.
Once a cliché is firmly established in the minds of the public, it attains the status of taken-for-granted truth and is very difficult to dislodge even by clear empirical counter-evidence. This is what sociologists call "cognitive dissonance" ("I have made up my mind don't confuse me with the facts;" "Bush lied, people died"). The popularity of a cliché does not depend on the amount of the quality of evidence for it, but on the way it meets the social and psychic needs of a particular situation.
All clichés are not bad. All of us believe in concepts for which there is dubious or no evidence or is contradicted by "confusing facts."
The NIMBY cliché is not benign or morally neutral. It is a negatively loaded term. Who benefits from this distortion of reality? I think I know the answer: it benefits those who understand the housing affordability crisis as an agenda of utopianism that is held by the political Left. It is those on the political Left who hypocritically claim to be the problem solvers of the housing affordability crisis; a crisis they have principally manufactured themselves with assistance of the media by creating and maintaining Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods.
According to the NIMBY cliché, NIMBY's are not just those trying to protect the nest-eggs of their home values, they are also considered evil. And because they are evil this gives a moral rationale for confiscating their homes by eminent domain often for other than pure public purposes. Or it gives a rationale for imposing compulsory increases in rents on some to subsidize the rents of others. Or it provides a rationale for shaking down landowners for 50% of the value of their land by Inclusionary Housing laws.
The NIMBY cliché will not likely be abandoned on the basis of empirical evidence alone. But perhaps an antidote would be an anti-cliché such as PINATA (Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods Always Takeover Affordable housing). The word "PINATA" is not used here to cast Mexican immigrants in an equally negative or evil light but to focus our attention on the larger reality behind the affordable housing crisis. Perhaps, by use of a reverse-cliche such as PINATA, we can see how negatively loaded and distorting the term NIMBY is.
A piñata is a Mexican paper-mache sculpture filled with candy, designed to be bludgeoned by children until the candy tumbles out. Pseudodictionary.com defines:
Meat Piñata as a "victim of aggravated assault, a person beaten repeatedly."
It is time to stop using NIMBY's as "MEAT PINATAS" in our public policies, State Housing Elements, Inclusionary Housing laws, building regulations, and eminent domain actions. Nor is this an invitation to bash immigrants (God bless them). It is an invitation for a clearer and more realistic lexicon and paradigm about our affordable housing policies. It is time to stop using cliches to avoid uncomfortable truths. It is time to stop using using the NIMBY cliche to advocate affordable housing on one hand while creating Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods that remove the most affordable housing supply from first time homebuyers and working class renters in communities on the other hand. It's time to take the mask off of all the affordable housing advocates, pandering politicians, phony academic affordable housing experts, government planners, and self-righteous religious activists who are only worsening the affordable housing situation by denying the metaphorical 1000 pound meat pinata in the doorway to affordable housing.
A possible starting point would be the initiation of lawsuits against communities to invalidate Inclusionary Housing laws and other affordable housing policies when 10% to 35% or more of the population are low income migrants living in Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods. How can there be an affordable housing crisis for the poor when such a large proportion of the population in many cities are low income migrants who somehow find affordable housing?
The principal generator of clichés, the mass media, would be a good starting point to changing the vested ideas about affordable housing. But since we can't count on any change with the agenda-driven media either, perhaps we need a counter cliche such as PINATA - Protected Immigrant Neighborhoods Always Takeover Affordable housing.
Bullshit. The building industry immediately brands as NIMBYs anyone who wants to protect their property from out-of-control building and assaults on the zoning code..
The author fails to note that liberals themselves are some of the most vicious NIMBY's out there. Try putting proposing an "affordable housing" project near a liberal enclave and see what happens.
Zoning codes don't just control your property values, they place controls on OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY.
The problem with affordable housing is that you can't build it without government subsidies. Right now the cost per square foot to build new is $90-$100. That makes a 900sf house between $81,000 - $100,000. Not affordable. And very small. Affordable housing is the least desirable housing in a given area. But many people aren't willing to put up with that. They want new housing for old housing prices.
I live near a small city. One can still purchase a home in this city for well under $40,000. There is plenty of affordable housing here and yet the local, state and federal government keeps pouring money in here to build "affordable housing". It's nuts.
just when seeing the words NIMBY and pinata, couldn't help myself...8^)
All you need is a statewide law restricting housing occupancy to no more than two closely-related occupants. (I once lived in a town which enacted such an ordinance to restrict student rental housing.)
This won’t stop people with, say, eight children, but it WILL stop the “extended family” of 10 with another half dozen hangers-on.
Inclusionary zoning is bad but exclusionary zoning is good?
Where are the free-marketeers when the working poor need them?
At $100 per square foot, a 400-sf house (built, say, four to a 10,000-sf lot) should be buildable for no more than $50K.
I could afford that. Where do I sign up?
Where do you live, North Dakota?