Blog The Growing Diversity of the YIMBY movement

Alex Melendrez, our Equity Organizing Manager, discusses the early days of the YIMBY movement, how it has evolved to become more inclusive, and why diverse voices are essential to our work.

April 30, 2024

YIMBYTown POC Happy Hour

Alex at the 2024 YIMBYtown POC Happy Hour

When I joined the pro-housing movement in 2018 as a volunteer, the perception of YIMBYs was still largely that they were a group of straight, white, male tech-industry workers. I remember sitting down prior to the pandemic at a brewery in Redwood City, CA for a Peninsula For Everyone meeting. The group is one of YIMBY Action’s 55+ nationwide chapters and one of its oldest. At that time, I was one of only two people of color in the room.

Much of the founding of the YIMBY movement and YIMBY Action is covered in Conor Dougherty’s “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America.” The book covers how the pro-housing movement both gained momentum and made some early missteps. While I love the book, I believe it ends too early. The YIMBY movement was only just beginning by the end of its coverage in “Golden Gates”, and it has progressed significantly.

The movement for more homes is fundamentally about affordability and access to opportunity. By building more homes, especially in wealthy neighborhoods, we are addressing historical redlining & segregation while also combating climate change and displacement. These were all important values to me, and I saw them in my fellow YIMBYs at the beginning of my YIMBY journey. As the movement has grown, it’s taken on a wider and more direct approach to racial justice.

YIMBYs have become more explicit about how apartment bans and other housing supply restrictions are intentional designs of institutionalized racism, drawing from inspirational works such as"The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein, "Race for Profit" by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond and more. We’ve integrated learnings from these books into our public comments, training, events, and meetings with fellow volunteers.

YIMBYTown Diversity Panel Pic

Alex and other YIMBY panelists delivered a presentation on how to make the movement more diverse at YIMBYtown

Emeryville Mayor Courtney Welch summed our new attitude toward racial justice up well when she said, “We’re so much more and it’s because YIMBYs of color are here and are active. We expanded what YIMBY means and stands for; it’s not just development, it's tenants' rights, it’s preservation, it’s housing voucher investment. We did that. We expanded the advocacy lens.”

Do we still have a lot to do to make our movement more diverse? Always. But when the movement is pigeonholed as an “all-white tech bro” movement, it erases the diverse community we are building.

From across the nation, there are so many powerful, diverse pro-housing leaders in the YIMBY movement. We see women, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC housing advocates who rise up and respond to the need for more housing. Their voices proclaiming their existence send a clear message: "I AM HERE, I EXIST, WE EXIST." And while online comments do not always reflect real life, in these moments they underscore the erasure of YIMBYs of color, women, and our LGBTQ+ community.

There is a continuous need to elevate and make space for the voices of YIMBYs with marginalized identities.

“As YIMBYs of color, we get squeezed into a contradiction. On the one hand, there’s still this assumption that YIMBYs are rich, white millennials. But then when we make ourselves visible and talk about how exclusionary housing policy has affected our communities, we take a lot of heat– more heat than our white counterparts– and are accused of only caring about certain people or of being reverse racist,” says YIMBY Action Member, Seema Patel.

Organizer Alex on the mic

Alex at the YIMBY Latino 'Grey to Green' Walking Tour

During 2022 Hispanic Heritage Month, I started YIMBY Latino, a chapter of YIMBY Action. Our mission is to make space for and highlight the diverse work & volunteers in the Latino housing community. We highlight topics like farmworker housing, Latino YIMBYs running for political office, Latino-focused housing non-profits, and so much more.

As we approached our first major event in 2022, a walking tour titled 'Grey to Green,' I was admittedly nervous. The event was a tour of the San Francisco Central Freeway, ending in Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley. One of our speakers, Alex Contreras is a successful Latinx freeway fighter, and the event was supported by the Hispanic Access Foundation. The walking tour was also included as part of Latino Conservation Week. This event was designed for a primarily Latino audience and I was nervous it wasn’t going to work. I was happy to be wrong.

The majority of the attendees were Latinos. I described it as “being in the community” to my co-workers. I couldn’t help myself and ended up asking every new face I could how they heard of the event, it was their first YIMBY event, and what their housing story was. Each varied, personal answer felt like a present on my birthday. It was the first physical confirmation of what I long believed back in those beginning years of becoming a YIMBY. That the fight for more housing is a fight for equity, access, and racial justice—and when we make intentional space, we find community.

YIMBY Latino Event

YIMBYs on the 'Grey to Green' Walking Tour

The housing shortage has disproportionately impacted those with marginalized identities, whether that be a particular race, color, creed, disability, lifestyle, sexual orientation, or combination of such. The YIMBY movement has evolved rapidly to address this disproportionate impact. While YIMBYs should take pride in the strides we've made to diversify our movement, we are conscious that there is much work left to do.

To my fellow YIMBYs of color, of different abilities, orientations, and genders, this is my love letter to you. Your voice matters, your existence is acknowledged, and your involvement is essential. We’ll need your help making more space & more community. Both metaphorically and literally.