Beya Jimenez on Making Urbanism Antiracist

Going Beyond Labels and Making the Human Case for Housing

YIMBY Action
4 min readAug 6, 2020

As the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery launched a nationwide reckoning with the depth of structural racism, YIMBYs knew we also had to do our own reckoning. We are part of an urbanist movement with a long legacy of building spaces that have marginalized Black communities and excluded Black voices from our decision-making, even as we have fought against segregationist housing policy. We have so much work to do. So YIMBY Action is conducting a series of conversations called “Making Urbanism Antiracist.” Our hope is that these conversations can help us do the work with intention.

Our fourth talk was by Beya Jimenez, who is the Director of Economic Opportunity at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and a board member of Abundant Housing Massachusetts. Beya helped organize YIMBYTown 2018 in Dorchester, and she spoke movingly and frankly about bridging the gap between the conference and the larger Dorchester community. Beya also addressed head-on the reputation that Boston has as a racist city, and reflected on what progress she thinks has and hasn’t been made.

Talking about a the inspiration for a recent letter she wrote to the Boston Globe titled “If you support Black Lives Matter, you must back housing for all”, Beya told us:

A street that’s really famous in Boston is Melville Street, which is in Dorchester, and it’s this really beautiful street with these huge mansions and homes that are totally out of price. And all of a sudden I started to see a lot of Black Lives Matter signs, and I was like: “hold up”. I’m pretty sure these are the same neighbors that would show up if we decided that we wanted to bring a couple more triple deckers to the street. These are the same neighbors who would fight against increasing the inclusionary development policy. These are the same neighbors who would vote down multifamily zoning by right. So I wanted to make that link, and I wanted to make it well-known that when we say, “Black Lives Matter”, we have to also talk about housing.

Beya also made a strong case for putting less emphasis on labels we use to describe our political positions and more emphasis on the stories of housing outcomes for people:

I did start shying away a little bit from the YIMBY name and start calling myself a pro-housing activist, because a lot of my heart still falls in affordable housing… I think that we get so caught up in some of these labels, and the truth is that the message that we need to start pushing for is making the human case for housing. So instead of just saying, “I’m YIMBY” or “I’m this” or whatever, I start to say, “I want to see housing for that Boston Public School teacher who’s making sixty five thousand a year, and I want to see housing for that young professional with a six-figure income who works for a biotech company, and I want to see housing for the single parent who’s on section eight, and I want to see housing for the young professional who wants to buy a home and is the first-generation buyer.”

Check out the video for more on Beya’s journey and opinions as a pro-housing advocate, including:

  • Reflections on her early career working on a political campaign in Lawrence, MA (6:40)
  • Her belief that housing is a root cause of many societal ills, as a social determinant of health (10:20)
  • Her thoughts on Boston as a famously racist city, and the relative lack of progress it has made from the era when it first earned that reputation (13:20)
  • How Boston focuses its pride on some communities more than others and sometimes fails to live up to its stated values on housing (17:00)
  • How Beya first was introduced to YIMBYism, and how it originally turned her off and felt like a movement where she didn’t exactly belong (27:40)
  • The story of her involvement in helping plan YIMBYTown 2018, which involved meeting with and listening to folks in the community who felt hurt by the conference plans (29:00)
  • Her advice to Black and Brown people in the pro-housing movement (36:55) and White people in the pro-housing movement (37:55)
  • What she thinks is necessary if you want to really listen to communities of color (40:25)
  • The need for us to stop using housing lingo like “80% AMI” and start merging stories and data to make the human case for housing (49:10)
  • A list of calls-to-action for folks in the pro-housing movement (56:20)
This event was proudly cohosted with Abundant Housing MA

Thanks so much to Gillian Pressman of YIMBY Action and Jacob Oppenheim of Abundant Housing Massachusetts for conducting the interview. Thanks also to Board Member Sasha Aickin for compiling this blog post recap.

If you enjoyed this talk, please consider attending our next talk in the series, catching up on the entire series, or joining YIMBY Action as a member!

Join us for the next in the series: Dr. Andre Perry, author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, joins us on Tuesday, August 11th at 5pm PT / 8pm ET. This event is cohosted by YIMBY Action, YIMBY Law, and the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative.

Tune in on Tuesday, August 11th