Real Estate Reporter

Rise of the LIMBYs

Not every problem is a problem
Green Meadows Village, the author's former home. PHOTO: GOOGLE STREET VIEW

I don’t know how you feel about it,” the neighbor said, informing me about a neighborhood development. “I don’t know if you’re a NIMBY or YIMBY or whatever . . . ”

My neighbor had just told me the old, run-down, one-story house (or as scientists would call it, “shack”) behind our condo building was going to be torn down. In its place would be a three-story multifamily building with about eight units. The new building would definitely impact the rear views of some of our condo units, none more than mine, and it was sure to draw some criticism. Maybe even more worrying to some people is the building is being developed by Habitat for Humanity to create affordable housing. What will the neighbors think?

As one of those neighbors, would I be a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) or a YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard)?

I am, in fact, a LIMBY: Literally In My Backyard. This new building will be situated directly behind my unit, maybe a dozen feet or so away; it will block a rather beautiful view we have from two of our rooms, overlooking an architecturally significant neighborhood and beyond that a big park filled with trees.

As for the fact that it will be affordable housing, I say good for them. There’s really nothing for people to be concerned about. As much as I agree this city needs to have ultra-cheap housing for the otherwise homeless, that won’t be the case here. It’s not an SRO, and it couldn’t be. There are no services nearby in our heavily residential neighborhood. You know what it’s a perfect spot for? A dense development of housing for people who would otherwise not be able to live in the city, and that appears to be what it will be. Do I want a building filled with school teachers and baristas with families? I sure do.

I have been on the other side of the equation. When I was in first grade in Green Bay, Wis., my family moved into a freshly built townhouse that was part of a large apartment complex built near the edge of the city. There were no frills or high-end finishes to our apartment; there was linoleum instead of slate flooring in the kitchen and the countertops were as far from granite as you could get. The walls were thin, we shared a party line phone with our neighbors, the basement flooded enough that we ran a sump pump year-round, and the parking lot also flooded more than once. But our new apartment had its own front entrance and rear patio, three bedrooms, a full basement, a big living and dining room, a backyard, and — best of all — one and a half bathrooms, which was an unbelievable luxury for this family of four children and their mother. It was also located in a nice neighborhood, with lots of trees, a creek, and within walking distance to my new elementary school.

The apartments were built by a private developer with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This was during the decade in which the federal government was extricating itself from involvement in housing development; no more public housing would be funded by Washington, which perferrred to incentivize private developers to take on the work.

I recently used Google Street View to virtually revisit the old apartment complex where we had lived for two years. It is still there, and it looks — as far as one can tell from the outside — like it’s still in perfectly good shape. It’s not run down; it’s not covered in graffiti; it still looks like a perfectly fine place for young singles, roommates, families, and retired people to live in townhomes or its collection of two-bedroom units.

I do not know if the neighbors of that development had objected to a large complex of apartments being dropped into their neighborhood of quiet ranch homes and tree-lined streets. But when we interacted with their children at school or went trick-or-treating on their streets, there was no sense of rejection or otherness; we just lived in the same neighborhood, and that was good enough for us.

The place was called Green Meadows, and though we jokingly called it Green Ghettos it was nothing of the sort. For us, it was a way station between our previous, smaller apartment and our next home, which was a large apartment in a two-flat house. That place had two full bathrooms.

Back here in San Francisco — where I currently live in the 22nd place I have called home — I will miss being able to see the park from some of our rooms. I will not enjoy the noise and other disturbances during the construction period. But I won’t miss the run-down house behind us, and I will be very happy for the families who get a nice new home to live in in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Which makes me a LIMBY YIMBY.

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