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Dealing with our inner NIMBY and the housing challenge

In the lead up to the REDWatch meeting with Council on "How should we plan for growth?" in April 2024, the REDWatch Update email provided the following background to the issues facing communities. As we have received good feedback on the the article we have reproduced it on our website.

The low and mid-rise housing proposal has helped stoke the NIMBY (Not in my backyard) and YIMBY (Yes in my back yard) debate. At the core of the debate is that it is better to increase density within the existing city footprint rather than to continue to expand the urban area leading to an increase of time it takes for people to travel and the need for new infrastructure as city footprint expands.

As soon as you decide to increase density without expanding the city’s land area then the growth has to go into the existing city footprint and suburbs and the city will change.

People attached to their existing communities are likely to resist that change happening in their area thus making it difficult for the needed growth to find somewhere to happen. The NIMBY label is thrown at anyone who questions a proposal to put increased density or a development in their neighbourhood.

Back in 2013 REDWatch held a workshop on NIMBYs, and with the low and mid-rise debate underway, it is probably a good time to revisit some of that discussion – on the REDWatch website you can see the NIMBY Discussion Points that we used to unpack “NIMBYism, the good, the bad and the ugly”.

At the time we suggested that there were some questions that should be asked about a development to unpack our NIMBY responses. These questions are still relevant today. The questions were:

•         Does the development need to happen somewhere? (Is there a greater good?) 

•         Are there local problems from the development? (Is there a local bad?)

•         What are problems – do they stand up to testing? (Are they real or imagined?)

•         Can the real problems be fixed or can they be compensated for?

•         Would you support the development elsewhere?

•         Do the problems go away for people if the development is elsewhere or does moving it create same or more problems?

One concern with the current low and mid-rise proposal is that it proposes to create blanket controls without local communities and Councils being able to discuss such questions and work out where growth is best to go within their local government area (LGA) and communities.

In the City of Sydney LGA this is not just for growth in housing, but also for growth in employment, entertainment, community facilities and other infrastructure to accommodate the growth in housing and employment. The City of Sydney has argued that the NSW government setting growth targets and then letting Council and communities work out where best to put that growth is a better approach than setting non-refusal standards for housing zoning.

There is a view in parts of state government, backed by the YIMBY push, that getting rid of existing planning controls will speed up that process and bring down the cost of housing across the board. Auckland in New Zealand has been used as a case study to support this view, but academic work by Cameron Murray and Tim Helm in their paper The Auckland myth: There is no evidence that upzoning increased housing construction has questioned the earlier work.

Academics also point out that developers have an interest in keeping property prices and their margins high rather than flooding the market with housing that brings down property prices and dividends to their shareholders, so having land to redevelop is not the only factor keeping prices high.

Social housing advocates argue that focusing on providing more social and affordable rental housing not only addresses the housing needs for those who the market fails, but it also takes the pressure off the lower end of the housing market making it more affordable for others.

Underneath this issue is a wider debate about the level of immigration putting pressure on housing and the longer term need to have enough taxpayers in a low birth rate country to pay for an aging population. With immigration, dealing with the post-Covid return of students and a catch-up from stalled migration, it is easy for those opposed to change in their suburbs to target immigration. After all, if Australia’s population does not grow, there is no need to plan for that growth, but without growth Australia then faces the long term problems of how to support an aging population.


You can get an idea of some of the issues in the NIMBY/YIMBY debate from the 2023 video of Sydney University Henry Halloran Research Trust’s Contested Housing: the great YIMBY vs NIMBY debate.

Source: REDWatch Email Update of 28 March 2024.