GUEST POST: I’m a student - and a YIMBY. Are you?

Jack Swan (@EofEYIMBY) has been volunteering at UK YIMBY over the summer and, before going back to university, has kindly written about his experience of the planning process and why he is a YIMBY:

It’s not a surprise that many younger people choose not to get involved in the planning process. After all, council planning webpages are more featureless than the most minimalist Instagram pages, and harder to understand than the most surreal of memes.

The majority of people who do endure this system - and, thus, make their voices heard - are aged over 55. The trouble here is that this age range is typically the most resistant to new homes. The result: they dominate discussion around planning proposals with hostile criticisms, so the country is not building the homes the younger generation desperately needs.

You may have heard of NIMBYs – those who say they understand more homes need to be  built but, of course, “Not In My Back Yard!”. YIMBYs are the opposite of that. They are people who are willing to say “Yes In My Back Yard” campaigning for the right kind of homes to be built in their local areas. It’s a movement that started in the United States, but now more and more people in the UK call themselves YIMBYs - myself, a student, included.

As a YIMBY, I recognise the fact that there aren’t enough homes in the UK. I know that I won’t be able to afford a home until I’m well into my thirties, maybe even older. I know a lot of my friends, less hopeful, are resigned to renting forever.

So I stand for supporting new homes being built in the UK. I stand for working in partnership with the right developers (more on that below) to get the right homes and the right services built in our towns and cities.

It means that, after I graduate, I’ll have somewhere I can throw down roots - whether that’s back in my hometown in Essex, where I’m studying in Manchester, or somewhere else entirely. But I’ll be able to own those roots, and not pay through the nose for them.

Like me, most of you reading this aspire to owning a new home in the near future. And I’m sure you’re just as worried as I am that you’ll have a hard time putting that deposit down on a house. You might even feel a bit of resentment that it used to be so easy – between 1996 and 2016 house prices rose on average 281% across the country, and 501% in London. The average deposit for a first-time house is 17%, up from 5% from when my parents were buying a house. You don’t have to study economics to know how supply and demand work: when you increase supply, prices go down (or at least don’t rise as maddeningly fast as they have), giving you and me a chance to get on the housing ladder before we start going grey.

It’s a cause that some students are already fighting for, such as members of the University of Surrey Students’ Union. They’ve done excellent work, not only documenting the unaffordability of housing for both student renters and graduates looking to settle in Guildford, but also in bridging the gap with their local community to find solutions to this. They are student YIMBYs.

But the best home for pro-housing students - from all universities and colleges, or those who aren’t in education - is the UK YIMBY network, of which I am a proud member. We promote housebuilding projects in local areas. We aren’t welcoming in just any luxury developer; we work with ones pledging a good amount of affordable housing, and who are showing a commitment to providing community benefits to the local area.

As a member, I get advice and information on how to make sense of the jargon-crammed world of planning and understand the basics: how many homes are going to get built near to me, and how to get involved in the process. That might involve writing an online comment on a planning site - and I know from far too many hours spent on Facebook I can do that. It might involve turning up in person to a consultation event - and if I can turn up and ask some questions at a seminar (hungover or otherwise), then I can do that too. But best of all, I can do it as part of a group of like-minded people - some my age, some not - who agree that we need new homes.

We aren’t looking to silence NIMBYs. They have good points, and they’re just as much a member of the community as we are - whether we’re looking to make our university town our home, or if we want to set up near to our parents, or if we’re chasing a job in a new city. But the problem is, NIMBYs dominate the conversation - and too often that leads to housing plans either stalled, downsized (and losing community benefits in the process), or not happening entirely. Which locks us out of the homeownership we all aspire to. All we want, as YIMBYs, is to balance out the debate - and find somewhere we can call home.

It doesn’t matter where you go to uni or what you study - we’re all looking to find a plot of land we can call ours. We know that, for our generation, that’s going to be a harder task than normal. But being YIMBYs offers us a solution.

Jack Swan, University of Manchester Undergraduate

The University of Surrey Students Union representatives reaching out to local community to discuss housing issues

The University of Surrey Students Union representatives reaching out to local community to discuss housing issues