19 June 2024

The secrets of Yimby success


One of the early winners in this election campaign has been the Yimby  (Yes In My Backyard) movement, which advocates for more building to solve the housing crisis. Advocates for Yimbyism  have succeeded in part because the housing crisis has become so severe that it forced its way into the national conversation. But another reason is that Yimby campaigners have focused on optimistic, unifying messages and a practical answer. The Yimby message is simple: we can fix the housing crisis and boost growth – and we can bring most of the population with us.

There hasn’t been an election in my lifetime where housing, particularly building more homes, has had the salience it does today. The Labour Party platform is full of pledges to get Britain building. The Lib Dems want to build 380,000 homes a year and the Conservatives boast they ‘delivered over 2.5 million homes’. Keir Starmer himself has proudly set out his stall as a Yimby and even Sadiq Khan has laid a claim (more dubiously) to the title. None of this was true just a few years ago. For years, voices like PricedOut and Yimby Alliance were up against legions who denied the very existence of a housing crisis. What changed?

The Yimby message has been successful for a few reasons. First the crisis has simply become intolerable. Rents in our biggest cities have skyrocketed, eating up what meagre wage growth we have seen. House prices are now ten times the average household income, rising to seventeen times for those less fortunate. People have seen themselves truly priced out, with the dream of owning a home getting ever further out of reach. But the more important reason for the rise of Yimbyism is the cause’s optimism. Campaigners offered hope that solving the housing crisis is not just possible – the solution comes with great side effects.

Unlike problems in many other policy domains, the housing crisis has a clear solution and massive benefits for those who embrace it. The solution is building more homes. All the evidence points to our housing crisis being primarily a function of (needlessly) constrained supply.

Additionally, in building more homes and solving the housing crisis, we can unlock a huge amount of pent-up economic growth. Unlike in areas like health, where almost every good idea comes with a large price tag attached, fixing housing will actually give the next government more money to work with. That’s a big part of why Starmer has embraced the pro-building agenda. Fixing Britain’s problems will be expensive, and the only way to pay for it will be boosting growth.

The growth comes not just from the one-off investment of building the homes, but also from the significant agglomeration effects homes in the right places can produce. Agglomeration effects are the boost in productivity and economic output people get when they can live near centres of high-quality jobs. They are the reason why we see distinct ‘clusters’ in the UK economy, like life sciences in Cambridge or medical technology in West Yorkshire. With more people able to access employment centres, you get a virtuous cycle of intellectual exchange, new businesses and innovation. It is this potential for growth and good jobs that makes Yimbyism so attractive to a would-be Labour Government facing tight fiscal constraints.

A key part of promoting the Yimby message has been focusing on the wide-ranging benefits of building more, from cheaper rents and more growth to the value uplift which can be used to fund vital infrastructure. This will be key to ensuring that any future policies to get Britain building are successful. Planning reform has been tried before and has failed, sometimes spectacularly. The last attempt at ‘regional planning’ saw over 40,000 thousand negative responses to just one plan. Simply trying to ram more building through the existing, broken system will not survive contact with the electorate.

The current system is full of veto points, where new homes can be blocked by small groups or even just one person. The next government should commit to tackling these as a matter of priority as part of any planning reform they pursue. They should also make sure that the benefits of new homes, currently overwhelmingly enjoyed by landowners, are shared more evenly, for example by funding local infrastructure. Yimbys have done well to get this far. In the coming years, we must make sure our new supporters deliver the long-term reforms Britain needs.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Freddie Poser is the Executive Director of PricedOut.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.