“St. Petersburg is probably the most forward-thinking jurisdiction in Florida when it comes to using upzoning as tool for housing affordability, but the changes we have made recently are a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to happen.
Biases against creating more affordable housing are a cultural problem, not just a policy problem. We aim to change the culture, not just the laws.”
- Jillian Bandes, Founder of YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)
What was the tipping point for developing YIMBY?
I grew up in Pinellas County, went away to college, worked in D.C. for a while, then moved to St. Petersburg in 2003. I wanted to build a duplex on a lot I bought that was 8 blocks from Central Avenue. Much to my surprise, I couldn't. The zoning there only allowed for single-family homes, even though there were 50-story skyscrapers just a few blocks away. I started to learn about zoning laws, and how a lack of density prevents more homes from being built.
What are the most frequent concerns you hear voiced by residents on the topic of (specifically Downtown) development? How do you respond to them?
There are a couple of major concerns when it comes to upzoning as a tool to increase housing affordability. The first is gentrification and displacement. This is a really big deal and needs to be addressed with subsidies for individuals who are affected. This should not, however, be a reason not to upzone at all, as the potential for positive impacts in the long-term are so monumental.
The second is neighborhood character. Residents who have lived here for a long time sometimes forget that St. Petersburg has a long history of multi-plex units and mid-rise apartments that actually enhance our neighborhoods.
The third concern is that upzoning will cause homes to increase in value instead of decrease, which would defeat the point of our mission. That could happen in individual cases, but big-picture, the evidence shows that it will not.
Fourth, we hear really misguided concerns from those who cite the environment as a reason not to upzone. They think that housing will create more blacktop / impervious area, create greater number of toilets, and cause our City’s infrastructure to be strained. Those concerns are probably the most misguided ones. Concentrating density near city centers is way better for the environment than suburban sprawl.
Lastly, we sometimes hear concerns from lower-income housing advocates that multi-plexes or townhomes simply aren't desirable for the lower- or moderate-income folks that might live there. That's a cultural problem that needs to be overcome. The effort to overcome that problem needs to be led by the elites in our community who advocate for this issue. There is simply no reason not to house more people overall due to the biases of folks who don't want to share a wall.
How do you measure success as an organization?
We need to be very selective about how we measure success. Small victories should be celebrated. These celebrations should not be misconstrued as progress. Progress will only happen when upzoning measures are much more widely implemented and home prices actually drop. It's going to be a long, long time before that happens. For example, only two permits have been pulled on the latest NTM-1 measure that was so controversial last spring. It’s been a year, and there have only been two permits pulled. I’m anticipating the same outcome on the upcoming measures to implement TOD zoning around SunRunner transit stops.
St. Petersburg is probably the most forward-thinking jurisdiction in Florida when it comes to using upzoning as tool for housing affordability, but the changes we have made recently are a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to happen in order to actually change home prices and rental rates.
Please feel free to share any other comments or topics that are important to you.
This issue crosses cultural, political, and socioeconomic lines – that’s why it’s so much fun to work on. Republicans, Democrats, lower-income folks, higher-income folks, transportation advocates, environmental advocates, you name it – we’ve got them as part of our coalition.
Biases against creating more affordable housing are a cultural problem, not just a policy problem. We aim to change the culture, not just the laws.
And, we're not going anywhere. We all live here and work here. We can see the path ahead and genuinely believe we can make a difference. This is a 10, 20, 30-year project.