If You Thought the NIMBYs Were Bad – Meet the YIMBYs

It’s often difficult to grasp the consequences of mass, unbridled immigration because much of what’s reported lacks perspective.  For instance, last month, there were 222,000 illegal immigrant encounters recorded at the southern border.

Is this a little or a lot? 

In 2021,  there were 1.7 million illegal immigrant encounters recorded; of those 808,000 individuals legally obtained U.S citizenship and 637,881 arrived on employment visa permits. And, in 2020, 707,362 people obtained a green card .

What do these numbers tell us? And what’s the impact on U.S. citizens like you and me?  This  week, we’ll look at that question from the perspective of housing.

If you’re a wage earner, a salaried professional or someone living on a fixed income, it’s evident we’re facing a housing affordability crisis. According to the New York Times, home values and rents have skyrocketed. At the same time incomes for all intents and purposes have remained stagnant when adjusted for inflation.

Today, one of the least elegant solutions being offered up to solve the problem is YIMBYism. It’s a clever play on the term NIMBY, “not in my backyard” in which the word “yes” replaces “not”.  In a nutshell, YIMBYists believe that removing federal, state, and municipal regulatory restraints to build more housing of all sizes, will bring down home prices and rents. 

So, what’s the intersection between mass, unbridled immigration and YIMBYism? Well, both were spawned from the same libertarian ideological ooze, and please indulge me while I explain.

Much like deregulating markets, and in this case removing housing rules and regulations, mass, unbridled immigration also calls for a laissez faire approach.  It’s the belief that a free-market will benefit us all; the unimpeded entry of immigrants to the U.S. will create a greater supply of workers.

Both ideas also place a premium on newcomers.  A key tenet of open-borders ideology is everyone has the right to come to the U.S. For YIMBYism, at least on paper and in their name, everyone has a right to choose one’s residence.

These issues are not only similar, they’ve become comingled, even though YIMBYists often claim theirs is a standalone issue. However, housing is only as important as the people residing there. If you want greater density, more congestion and greater demands placed on existing infrastructure – then fine! But if not, you may want to have a talk with your inner YIMBY.

Not only does mass immigration lower the real wages of American workers, it dramatically increases housing costs. In a Bloomberg article, When Immigrants push up Housing Costs, Center of Real Estate Director and MIT economics professor Albert Saiz’s found “a 1% increase in the immigrant population at the metro level leads to 1 % rise in housing prices.”

What’s different is YIMBYists recognize the laws of supply and demand impact the housing market, but open borders advocates completely discard this fundamental rule. They believe more immigrants will lead to more job creation and the net effect has no impact on the displacement of workers already here, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

YIMBYists fail to grasp that increasing the housing supply while continuing to increase the number of people vying for housing, is not a sustainable solution. Even if you build more housing to satisfy both U.S. citizens and immigrants, the pipeline of immigrants coming to the U.S. will not end. Given current immigration policies that prioritize family reunification and the removal of many restrictions and regulations, this could lead to not just linear growth, but exponential population growth.

More immigrants will drive up housing costs once again and leave everyone in the same situation. YIMBYism is effectively a supply-side solution that ignores ways to restrict housing demand.

At a recent American Enterprise Institute (AEI) book talk focused on the latest findings and economic data from mass immigration scholars and advocates, it became clear just how intertwined these two ideas have become.

Leah Boustan, an economics professor at Princeton University and co-author of Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success, defended how immigration is a positive for the housing market saying, “immigrants are not only workers, but they are also consumers, so when they arrive, they need housing, someone has to build a house.” 

She’s 100% right here, however, the tragedy is an immigrant’s housing need doesn’t benefit young Americans or Americans in general who are struggling to find a home. Who does benefit? It’s the Housing and real estate developers who are among the biggest beneficiaries of mass immigration. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, “immigrants currently contribute 40% of the demand for new housing”. Developers maximize their profits when they have a steady stream of legal and illegal migrants who all need housing. According to the Urban Institute, developers and construction companies exploit cheap, and illegal labor and that further depresses overall wages. In the end, they gain more business plus save on labor costs, all while pocketing the difference.  

When Boustan was asked if immigrants caused housing price hikes and shortages, she said, “I think it’s a really sad state of affairs that we have to talk about housing competition in that way.”

Even the open borders zealots trip over themselves on this issue as there’s only a fixed amount of housing available. Therefore, immigrants and U.S. citizens are both vying for the same limited number of homes which, in Boustan’s own words, “creates a sense of competition.” The reason she may be remiss mentioning housing is the housing market foils her premise that immigration is a win-win. Increased immigration takes housing (and jobs) from native workers, and housing (like immigration) adheres to the laws of economic supply and demand. 

Professor Boustan further asserted, “there is no reason why we cannot have more construction and more building that we need for immigrants.” Again, the tragedy here is building more housing for new arrivals while continuously letting in over one million legal immigrants yearly and millions more illegally does nothing to solve the current or future housing crises. It’s not a virtuous cycle being created, rather it’s a destructive one.

Professor Boustan’s YIMBYism became crystal clear when she proposed, “one indirect way to possibly lessen concerns about immigration and lessen concerns about what is this [mass immigration] going to do to my real wage is think about more construction.” 

YIMBYism is closely allied with the open borders movement. Mass immigration advocates use YIMBY arguments to call for more deregulation, claiming immigrants don’t affect housing supply and demand. Again, they somehow see it all as a win-win. Truth be told, it is its Achille’s heel. One of the primary impacts of increasing the population is the rising cost of housing. They attempt to mask this by creating more housing. But it is ultimately a lose-lose proposition. And not just from an economic standpoint. You may recall the lyrics to the John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High, “more people, more scars upon the land.”

I’ve used the the word “tragedy” a couple times in this column, and purposefully so, as I believe tragedy is not just the triumph of evil over good. Rather, it’s the triumph of one good over another good.

What’s good for the immigrant, the open border zealots, the chambers of commerce, ethnic lobbies and political hacks in both parties is not good for America’s productive classes. Sadly, the triumph of the former is the demise of the latter.