East End Effort Pops Up to Counter “Not in My Backyard” Mindset

Michael Daly. Photo courtesy of Madison Fender

By Christine Sampson

A new local effort emphasizing support for affordable housing is attempting to flip the script on the “NIMBY” sentiment seen often in the world of real estate development, where the “Not In My Backyard” mindset often halts projects perceived as harmful to a neighborhood as well as those that could benefit the community at large.

The campaign to counter NIMBYism is dubbed “YIMBY” for “Yes In My Backyard,” and is part of a national trend. Michael Daly, a South Fork-based real estate agent with Douglas Elliman and member of the Progressive East End Reformers, runs East End YIMBY, a Facebook group that has attracted more than 100 followers so far.

“We’re up against this wall now and we’re so out of balance it’s insane,” Mr. Daly said, referring to what he says is a scarce availability of workforce and senior citizen housing versus a high demand for those resources on the East End.

Mr. Daly launched East End YIMBY about six months ago.

“People usually give me that head-tilt saying ‘Whaaa?’ when I first say the word ‘YIMBY,’” he said. “But with a brief explanation, they definitely get it.”

Mr. Daly said the outcomes at municipal meetings seem to favor NIMBY opinions. When elected and appointed officials heed those claims, he said, support for affordable housing and other beneficial projects seems to dissipate. A recent example was Windmill Village’s 2015 plan to build between 40 and 50 units on 31 acres on Stephen Hands Path in Wainscott, which was dropped when community members and school officials came out in staunch opposition.

“I think right now the NIMBYs, out of trying to protect their own interests, have really become the vocal minority, and are the ones who go to the town and village hall meetings and kind of control the dialogue,” Mr. Daly said, “and therefore very few things that are in the community’s benefit get done. People have to show up. If the politicians and decision makers only hear the voices of the NIMBYs, they’re not inspired necessarily to do the right thing. The YIMBYs have to be heard that we, in this case, need more housing that will benefit a wider swath of our community.”

YIMBY groups have popped up in many cities across the United States, from San Francisco, California, to Boulder, Colorado, to Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, and New York City. There are even national conferences, where YIMBY activists from all over the country have convened to confront issues such as land use, traffic, housing density, homelessness and more.

“I think the [YIMBY] movement is extremely important,” said Nikolai Fedak, who founded New York YIMBY in 2011 and made running it his full-time occupation in 2013. He said his online publication gets about 125,000 unique visitors per month, specializing in breaking news of new real estate projects before other news outlets report on them.

Mr. Fedak called housing “the number-one driver of inequality” in the United States.

“It’s going to keep getting worse as we see the impacts of climate change mounting across the country,” he said. “You saw millions of people displaced from Puerto Rico to Houston to Florida to California. The current housing stock is literally going up in flames or drowning under water. … It’s having major impacts and displacing many people. If you don’t provide them with a place to live, that’s how you get societal instability.”

He said the goal of New York YIMBY is not to advocate for a particular demographic, but rather to advocate in general for more housing and better urban development practices in the city and beyond.

Mr. Daly expressed a similar sentiment, saying that all five East End towns — East Hampton, Southampton, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold — need to come to the table with diverse and viable solutions.

The Atlantic reported in July of 2017 that YIMBY groups are not without criticism. “Left-leaning San Franciscans have called YIMBY advocacy ‘a libertarian, anti-poor campaign,’” The Atlantic reported, “and the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America recently protested a YIMBY panel in San Francisco, calling the organization ‘pro-gentrification.’”

“YIMBY tends to be pro development, but we know development in our area is very sensitive primarily because of water quality issues, so we are not pro development per se, but we’re pro responsible development,” Mr. Daly said. “We certainly are not going to encourage anything that is going to hurt the environment, but we also believe that part of the reason we have so much traffic is we have people who work here who can’t afford to live here.”

As an example of local advocacy, he said he is encouraging a Sag Harbor property owner to plan affordable apartments on a Long Island Avenue site instead of developing it commercially.

“Everybody has to do their part — every village and every hamlet in the townships,” Mr. Daly said.

The East End YIMBY Facebook group can be found at facebook.com/beayimby.