NIMBYs just don’t understand

(Read the title as Will Smith might rap it.)

A guy on twitter came across a tweet where I bragged a bit about the duplex my brothers and I built in Vancouver. He’s an anti-development type and made the following point:

“You bought detached … for $1.48M in 2018. You sold [half] duplex … for $1.58M. You’re trying to sell other half … for $1.35M.

His point is that, through this redevelopment process, we’ve exacerbated Vancouver’s affordability problem. His broader point is that new housing, by virtue of being new and therefore expensive, can not solve the affordability problem.

This is the primary objection levelled at yimbys and yimbyism, and betrays an inability to think through second order effects.

To illustrate the point, let’s say that there are three types of people who might buy our duplex units.

First, there are the upgraders. These are people who, as they progress through life, can afford more and better housing.

Second, there are the downsizers. These are people who, as they age and see their kids move out, need less housing than they once did.

Third, there’s the new money. These are people new to town who can afford nice housing.

What happens in each case if we don’t build new expensive housing?

First, the upgraders don’t upgrade. They stay put in downmarket housing that could have gone to a lower income household.

Second, the downsizers don’t downsize. They stay put in housing that is too big for their needs, that could have either gone to another set of upgraders or even been redeveloped for additional density (like our duplex).

Third, the new money bids up the existing inventory of housing, which is not what we want if we want improved affordability.

In each case, the cause of affordability is harmed by not building new expensive housing.

As a final point, my twitter antagonist is of course not making an apples-to-apples comparison. The detached house that we tore down was in terrible condition. I should know. I slept in it for a few days when visiting my brother. And the duplex units we built are beautiful.

A fair comparison might be a beautiful new duplex unit vs. a beautiful detached house, which would go for well north of $2M in our neighbourhood.

We shouldn’t think that housing affordability can only be preserved by keeping houses and neighbourhoods in bad condition.