YIMBY Action Informal Midyear Report 2020
Dear members and supporters,
A year ago this month, I joined the YIMBY Action team full time to lead growth and fundraising. I joined with a clear and ambitious mandate: take YIMBY Action to nationwide scale.
We set January 1, 2020 as the start of our growth phase: 2020 would be Year 1 of a 4-year plan that would have YIMBY Action ultimately reach 40,000 members across 120 clubs by 2023. Our investments in 2020 would position us to become a revolutionary grassroots movement that could finally topple exclusionary and segregationist housing policy.
And then 2020 actually happened. Adding to my fear, anger, and sorrow about world events was anxiety about the future of the YIMBY movement. I saw the housing shortage as a major root cause of many of the structural problems 2020 has made glaring — it’s why we have the dangerous overcrowding that accelerates disease, it’s why millions of families can’t make rent in a downturn, and it’s part of why Black Americans remain systemically and appallingly marginalized. America’s housing shortage has made us poorer, sicker, and more segregated.
But I wasn’t sure if others would continue to believe in YIMBY. Would they have the energy to keep showing up? Would YIMBY activists organize amidst shelter-in-place? Would the community keep the conversations going? Would coalition partners take meetings? Would our donors continue to support us?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. In fact, the YIMBY community has shown up more than ever before. You stepped up to leadership: we added 20 new leaders to our Leads Council and added 5 new incredible Board members. You flocked to the movement: we grew our list by 35% and hosted more than 30 events. You devoted new resources: we nearly doubled paid membership revenue.
Fueled by your energy, activism, and resources, we are well on track to meeting our 2020 goals. We’ve expanded regionally, grown the base, driven electoral wins, and strengthened our infrastructure. We will, after all, have a 2020 that positions the YIMBY movement for transformative longterm impact.
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for making this all possible.
With gratitude and admiration,
YIMBY Action Director of Development
Growth and Capacity Building
In mid-January, we officially welcomed Kelsey Banes, a Lead organizer with our Peninsula for Everyone chapter, as our San Francisco Peninsula/Silicon Valley Executive Director.
In mid-January we also brought on People for Housing Orange County, which has been fighting for housing in Southern California since 2017. We officially welcomed to staff Elizabeth Hansburg, the Executive Director of People for Housing Orange County, as our Southern California Executive Director.
We also are expanding beyond California. In May, YIMBY Denver began the process of joining the YIMBY Action network!
Takeaway: In our regional expansion, we have found innumerable benefits to the “acqui-hire” model. Rather than hire new staff to expand, we find and fund the regional organizers who are already doing the work, and already have sophisticated political knowledge and deep coalition relationships.
Growing the YIMBY Base
In 2020, we shared pro-housing messages with a wider audience than ever before. In addition to our clubs’ regular meetings, we hosted 29 special events in 2020 (an average of 1.2 per week). We grew our list by 35% just since shelter-in-place began, with the biggest growth coming from the San Francisco Peninsula, San Francisco South Bay, and Orange County in Southern California, and through interest groups like Urban Environmentalists.
Meanwhile, we have nearly doubled our dues-paying membership. This support is critical for YIMBY Action’s sustainability, but also an important proxy for activist engagement.
Takeaway: In growth, we have learned the incredible potency of digital communications. Activists overwhelmingly learn about us through social media and our website. Digital volunteerism also offers an extremely fruitful entry point, especially now. In June alone, we gained almost 900 new activists from online petitions. We are hoping to invest in digital communications staff capacity to unleash the potential of digital volunteer recruitment.
Expanding Our Leadership
In 2020, we elevated a new Board Chair, Ernest Brown, to leadership and recruited five new Board members in Sasha Aickin, Peter Ambler, Jeff Fong, Parag Gupta, and Leora Tanjuatco-Ross, adding considerable talent and expertise from a range of industries.
We also expanded our Leads Council, adding 20 new Leads so far in 2020, with more women and people of color represented than ever before. By offering more structure and goal-setting, we’re seeing clubs flourish.
Takeaway: Leadership specialization and goal-setting significantly increases output. We’ve made incredible strides via the focused energy of Leads. By increasing structure creating more entry-points, we have also created more opportunities for new and more diverse voices to enter YIMBY leadership. (If you’re curious about becoming a YIMBY Action Lead or starting an affiliated club, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Building and Strengthening Pro-Housing Coalitions
Working with partners is key to a successful housing movement, and we’ve put this work into high gear. We’ve organized events with major housing justice players like National Low Income Housing Coalition, Housing Leadership Council San Mateo, Abundant Housing LA, Tech Equity Collaborative, Abundant Housing MA and so many more. Working with new partners has opened doors to new political alliances and helped build bridges into new communities.
Takeaway: The regional staffing model we’ve launched this year has proved transformative for coalition-building. Dedicated regional staff have the time to invest in building relationships and provide consistency for partners. Having a regional, statewide, and national presence means more opportunities for collaboration and to “show up” for any given partner.
Actualizing our Commitment to Equity
Under the leadership of our Board Chair, Ernest Brown, we have invested considerably in reflection and learning around the specific goal of actualizing our Equity Vision by recruiting and elevating more diverse voices in the YIMBY movement.
To do more to intentionally and aggressively advance racial justice and reckon with the legacy of white supremacy, we launched a Making Urbanism Antiracist speaker series. Our first events showcased Black urbanists Warren Logan, Kelsey Brewer, Michael Lens, and Beya Jimenez. Over 500 people have tuned into these powerful discussions, and they are setting the table for ongoing work. Catch up on our Youtube playlist.
Takeaway: While on track, this is an area that needs considerably more investment. For example, we are hoping to invest in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion e-training for all Leads, and use it to audit and revise internal recruitment and meeting practices.
Providing COVID Relief to the Unhoused and Housing Insecure
In collaboration with local housing justice organizations and national partners National Low-Income Housing Coalition and Up For Growth, we have helped raised the alarm that housing is critical component of our healthcare infrastructure. As part of multiple campaigns at the local, state and federal levels, we have fought for eviction protections during this crisis. YIMBYs advocated for relocation of homeless populations into hotels and the establishment of safe encampment sites, but people are still suffering deeply during this crisis. We are continuing to work with partners to beat the drum, as fears of a national eviction tsunami mount.
Approving Local Housing Projects
Across our regions, we’ve helped approve over 5,000 units of housing in 2020. Notable wins include the Midway Village project in Daly City, CA (redevelopment of lower-density affordable housing into 555 affordable homes) and the Euclid at Lincoln project (115 missing middle homes in Anaheim, CA).
Meanwhile, phone-in public comment has become a game-changer for activists across the county. This radical transformation during shelter-in-place has helped so many people engage with their government. With workers and parents finally able to participate, we’ve seen pro-housing voices outweigh anti-housing voices as much as 5:1 at hearings. But communities are already rolling back this progress, despite the risk to public health. So, we launched a campaign to Keep Public Meetings Public! It will take more activism to ensure hearings retain the transformative phone-in public comment option as they reopen.
Getting Pro-Housing Candidates Elected
The March elections enabled us to launch and beta-test our electoral infrastructure. With new, standardized candidate vetting processes (including questionnaires and member interviews), a revised endorsement procedure, we’ll be launching endorsements in more jurisdictions than ever.
We have since begun to choose the key November candidate races and ballot props to mobilize volunteers for in each region. For example, in the San Francisco Peninsula, we will focus on flippable City Councils like Menlo Park and Mountain View. In Orange County we will focus on the cities with the highest RHNA numbers that will most need pro-housing leadership, like Irvine and Anaheim. We will also activate volunteers to fight segregationist ballot props like San Mateo’s Measure P that upholds height limits and a measure in La Habra that mandates voter approval for any zoning changes. To succeed in these fights, we must make critical investments now to grow and broaden our volunteer base.
Passing Pro-Housing Legislation
While many of the biggest bills in California are not moving forward this year, a small package of pro-housing bills remain. Meanwhile, bills that the YIMBY movement helped successfully pass are beginning to bear fruit in California’s Housing Element process. YIMBY Action and YIMBY Law are training up Housing Element Watchdogs to ensure every community is zoning for and building their fair share of housing in 2020.
Why is this work so important? Just watch this 2014 clip of the Cupertino City Council conspire in plain sight to thwart housing laws:
Keep this movement going
Over the next few months, YIMBY Action will be steadily rolling out endorsements for the November election in cities and towns across the country. This is a massive undertaking that is only possible with the hard work of volunteers and supporters. If you’re interested in helping with an endorsement process in your area, become a member and email email@example.com.