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San Francisco Is So Expensive Even Renters Can Be NIMBYs

Rent anxiety and fears of displacement fuel support for obstructing market-rate housing in pricey cities.
New apartment being constructed in San Francisco, where renter NIMBYism reigns supreme.
New apartment being constructed in San Francisco, where renter NIMBYism reigns supreme.Robert Galbraith/REUTERS

Where new housing gets built—or, more likely, doesn’t get built—is often driven by the obstructionist tendencies of existing residents. NIMBYism is rooted in the fear that an increase in the supply of housing will lower the value of homes and neighborhood amenities. Sometimes, this fear comes disguised as local protectionism, accompanied by cries lamenting the decline in neighborhood aesthetics—blocked light, congestion, and noise. Other times, it’s thinly veiled racism.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that renters are immune to the temptations of NIMBYism, simply because they stand to gain from lower housing prices and an increase in affordable units. But that doesn’t stop them from joining the obstructionist bandwagon in expensive cities, according to new research by Michael Hankinson at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Via the paper: