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The following is an article written by The Somerville Times, published , featuring quotes from co-founder & Steering Committee member Jeff Byrnes.

YIMBY movement takes root in Somerville

On August 1, 2018, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Ian Erlichman

The housing activist group YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) believes there are strategies available to effectively increase housing in the city, even as densely populated as it already is. — Photo by Bobbie Toner

Criterion Development Partners are constructing a new residential building in Somerville. According to the city’s SomerVison plan, this project is just one of 871 units under construction in Somerville since 2017.

As Senior Landscape Designer Luisa Oliver, admitted in the SomerVision reveal, “Somerville is a very small city and it’s densely populated.” So why would we attempt to squeeze more housing into a city that is the 16th most densely populated city in the nation? Jeff Byrnes, founder of a housing activist group called “YIMBY” (Yes In My Back Yard), doesn’t believe that Somerville’s dense population is a problem.

“Look at a city like London or Paris,” Byrnes urges. Paris is roughly three times as dense as Somerville, and equally as dense as New York City, yet it spares itself “towering buildings and high-rises,” he pointed out. According to Byrnes, the secret to Paris’s residential system lies in their efficient use of space and emphasis on walkability: a strategy he believes Somerville could and should emulate in the coming years.

Somerville’s burgeoning “YIMBY” movement calls for increased housing development in the hopes that it lowers housing prices, promotes racial integration, and increases walkability without losing the city’s hallmark neighborhood aesthetic. “We want to expand housing opportunities for any and everyone who still lives here, wants to stay here, and wants to come here,” said Byrnes.

To make room for incoming and current residents, Byrnes suggests we go up and in. “Over 80% of Somerville is residential buildings … one, two, three unit houses with very few apartment buildings,” said Byrnes. Despite its apparent density, Somerville “does not make efficient use of its size. We could fit more people and still retain what makes Somerville great.”

One way to fit more people is to go up, by constructing “five, six, even seven story buildings” in places like Davis Square, Byrnes said. While building more residences increases the concrete, it also cultivates a diverse set of people and cultures. “You don’t disrupt the feeling of those places, those vibrant areas,” Byrnes stated.

Although YIMBYs are all for affordable housing, and the inclusionary zoning that facilitates it, Byrnes emphasized the need for housing across all income groups. “Affordable housing is an immediate answer for those who have the least means, but it doesn’t address those of some means.”

Because Inclusionary Zoning in Somerville requires all new housing developments to allocate 20 percent of its residences to low-income renters, landlords must raise the price of the remaining 80 percent of residences to account for the lost revenue. That is, if there isn’t an alternative source of revenue. One solution to this problem fits snugly into the YIMBYs mental image of Somerville’s future: building in.

According to a study by the Furman Center, an effective boot to stamp down inflated housing prices are density requirement exceptions. The study concluded, “IZ policies that provide density bonuses and exempt small housing units produce more affordable housing.”

In order for landlords to keep prices at market value for those renters “of some means,” they must be compensated for the losses they inherit from their low-income renters.

The YIMBY vison of America’s future cities involve dense, homey residence buildings that connect to large open side-walks and bike friendly streets. It’s a dream that implores us to bring the close warmth of Paris streets to the bulging cities of America. The question is: are the people that own residences in Somerville now willing to change?