Affordable Housing: Bi-Partisan Legislation Addresses Housing Shortage with the YIMBY Act


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The U.S. Senate is taking a close look at the YIMBY Act. The Yes in My Backyard legislation was first introduced in 2019, but was put on hold because of the pandemic. It addresses the national housing shortage by encouraging local policies that will increase affordable housing, including changes to zoning restrictions in single-family neighborhoods.

Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana and Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii reintroduced the YIMBY Act a few weeks ago. (1) YIMBY is a reaction to the well-known NIMBY concept for Not in My Backyard. Inside the YIMBY bill is a list of 20 policies that local governments or states could adopt to increase housing affordability and availability.

HUD Block Grant Funding

Although the bill doesn’t mandate the adoption of these policies, it requires the elimination of discriminatory land use policies and affordable housing barriers before jurisdictions receive HUD block grant funding. To qualify for the annual grants, jurisdictions would have to submit reports to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development at least once every five years.

The reports would identify which policies a jurisdiction has implemented or is in the process of implementing and how they are being implemented. For the policies that are not being adopted, the jurisdictions must explain why that can’t happen.

A similar bi-partisan bill was passed in the House about one year ago, in March 2020. That legislation also included a policy list that is basically the same as the one in the Senate bill.

Policies in the YIMBY Act

At the top of the list are policies that would increase housing density in single- and multifamily neighborhoods. One policy also targets single-family neighborhoods exclusively by proposing they be zoned to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. Another one encourages zoning that allows the subdividing of single-family homes into duplexes. The bill also proposes that zoning rules include manufactured homes and prefabricated structures.

Other entries on the list encourage multifamily development in retail, office and light manufacturing areas, single-room occupancy development within multifamily housing, smaller lots, and fewer buildings that are protected by historic preservation codes.

The legislation also wants to see easier and faster permitting for affordable housing projects, the elimination of off-street parking requirements, and the conversion of empty office space to apartments. (There may be plenty of empty office space for that last one, if companies don’t bring all their employees back from their remote work positions.)

Both lists include the lifting of restrictions on accessory dwelling units for single-family properties. And the Senate bill trades the last four policies on the House bill for two others which include the legalization of short-term home rentals and the legalization of home-based businesses.

The four House policies include bonuses for housing density, fewer height restrictions on buildings, tax abatement for higher density developments, and the donation of land for affordable housing development.

YIMBY Support from Housing Groups

More than a hundred affordable housing groups just sent a letter to Senate lawmakers in support of the YIMBY Act. (2) It says in part: “The YIMBY Act is vital for encouraging communities to build more affordable and market-rate housing. This need will only grow as the country recovers from the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.” It says the legislation is: “An essential first step in decreasing barriers to new housing at all price levels.”

All the big real estate and mortgage groups signed on to the letter, along with many smaller state and local organizations. The Washington D.C.-based National Housing Conference was one of them. President David Dworkin told HousingWire that local governments are often given money for affordable housing but don’t end up putting it to its best use because of NIMBY opposition. (3) He says, instead, local officials may sign off on something that is easier to swallow for the NIMBYs.

As HousingWire reports: “The politics of the YIMBY Act is tricky. There is no organized opposition in Washington to the bill. You won’t find a national NIMBY group.” The article basically says the issue will blow up at the local level when community members become concerned about a proposed project. Advocates might say that this legislation is a way to mandate more of a YIMBY attitude toward housing.

You’ll find links to the legislation and the letter in the show notes for this episode at:

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