Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
By: Kevin Frazier
You’ve likely never met a LIMBY, but that may soon change. In fact, you may be one by the end of this article. Anyone who believes that locals deserve access to affordable housing in their community is a LIMBY – a supporter of “Locals in my backyard.”
It’s more likely that you’ve heard of YIMBYs – supporters of “Yes in my backyard.” YIMBYs lobby local, regional, and state governments to build more affordable housing, especially in urban areas. Thanks to the YIMBY movement, communities across the country have started building up rather than out – increasing the density and supply of affordable housing in urban areas, thereby allowing more people to live near employment and educational opportunities as well as closer to community resources.
LIMBYs, like YIMBYs, advocate for affordable housing. However, LIMBYs go a step further by specifically advocating that housing go to locals in the community. We need more LIMBYs.
Locals in places like Bentonville are finding it harder and harder to stay in their hometown or adopted hometown. Out-of-state folks have poured into communities with great quality of life and comparatively cheap housing – however, what a Californian may regard as cheap in Bentonville, a local to the community may find prohibitively expensive.
These Californians and other Americans from areas with higher median incomes have a choice that locals increasingly lack – where to call home. When these folks exercise their choice of where to call home, they may end up robbing locals of that same privilege.
The pattern plays out like this: educated white folks from economically-prosperous metro areas earn high incomes and accumulate substantial wealth; then, like a kid in front of a soda machine, they pick as many different flavors of community as they’d like and buy up housing wherever they think it might be nice to visit, even if for a month or two a year; where these folks buy, locals face stiffer odds of finding a spot to stay put in their community – some locals will find that they simply cannot afford to remain in their hometown and are forced to find a new community.
YIMBYs respond to this pattern by demanding the construction of more affordable housing. However, that’s only a partial solution. An increase in the supply of housing may drop rents and lower prices, but it’s like that those units are still out of the price range of locals. That’s why YIMBY must be replaced with LIMBY. Communities must not only build affordable housing, but they must also enact policy preferences for said housing to go to locals.
It’s great news that the supply of affordable housing is increasing in Northwest Arkansas. The investments made by the Excellerate Foundation in the housing supply here will go a long way toward making it an affordable place to live – but whether it will be affordable for locals is a question too few people are asking. The fact that the president and CEO of Excellerate, Jeff Webster, noted that the Foundation’s housing may help local firefighters, baristas, and teacher’s aides stay in town is encouraging but those locals need specific policies in place to ensure that new units keep old residents in the region. Excellerate’s current plan is to reserve a specific number of units for individuals making less than a certain amount per year – why not also specify that those individuals have demonstrated residency in the community?
LIMBYs believe that locals have a right to decide if and when they ever want to leave their community, rather than being forced out by people simply looking for “cheaper pastures” or an asset in their real estate portfolio.
If you’re finding yourself agreeing with LIMBYism, there’s a couple policies you should start to advocate for in your community. First, demand moratoriums on short-term rentals like Airbnb’s. Many communities were caught flatfooted by the sudden and significant spread of short-term rentals in their community. While the floodgates were open, wealthier individuals had plenty of time to buy up housing with the sole intent as using it as a source of revenue. That’s why towns such as Crested Butte in Colorado have stopped granting permits for short-term rentals – this pause will give community leaders a chance to assess the pros and cons of short-term rentals in their community and it will prevent even more housing from ending up in the hands of folks with few, if any, ties to the community.
Second, ask your local or regional government to study a housing voucher program for locals. Housing vouchers, unlike inclusionary zoning and related housing policies, do not distort the market but instead merely give voucher recipients a financial boost. Locals will have much greater odds of staying in their communities if their governments invest in their housing prospects.
Third, tell people about LIMBYism. This is a young and small movement, but it can grow. Share this article with a friend and tell them to do the same. If you’re really into LIMBYism, you can also read and share a longer article on the topic in issue 12.1 of the Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service. What matters most is that more folks become aware of the importance of giving all Americans the right to choose if and when they leave their chosen community.