The Next Generation of NIMBYs

Younger buyers who sunk their savings into new homes have too much to lose.

A view of houses in a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California
A neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty)

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The pandemic made it possible for many Millennials to purchase their first home. Could it also have set the stage for a new breed of NIMBYs?

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Backyard Wrestling

When we think of the typical NIMBY—a pejorative term (short for “Not in My Backyard”) for someone who opposes change in their community, especially if they don’t oppose that change somewhere else—we tend to imagine an upper-middle-class Boomer, shaking his fist at the sky as someone builds affordable housing or a new wind turbine in his neighborhood. Research backs this up: The types of people who show up at local meetings to oppose new housing are older, more likely to be white, and more likely to be homeowners than those who don’t.

But the pandemic didn’t just spawn variants of the coronavirus. It may have also turbocharged the development of a new variant of the change-averse homeowner: The Millennial NIMBY.

In the past couple of years, home prices have skyrocketed as the nation’s longtime house-supply deficit barreled into low-interest-rate-and-increased-remote-work-fueled demand. As a result, the median sales price for a home in the U.S. grew from $313,000 in early 2019 to $428,700 in early 2022.

New research from Freddie Mac shows that first-time homebuyers were “the major driver of the increase in demand. In 2021, Freddie Mac financed 554,000 loans for first-time homebuyers—up 22% from 2020,” the chief economist Sam Khater writes. “That’s the highest level since tracking began in 1994” (emphasis my own).

Becoming a homeowner does not automatically make you a NIMBY. In fact, the people who attend zoning-board meetings to try to block new construction, or who hire lawyers to try to stop renewable-energy projects or mass transit from being built, are very weird and represent a very small percentage of people who own homes.

So why am I worried about these new homeowners? Because I believe that many of them will soon be desperate to maintain their property value—a key ingredient for NIMBYism. (If you’re wondering why NIMBY-ism is bad, you can read my longer-form thoughts here. But it plays a large role in our critical undersupply of housing, our inability to build mass transit, and the floundering of renewable-energy projects such as wind and solar farms.)

The economist William Fischel’s book The Homevoter Hypothesis details the way that homeowners become “homevoters” and act to head off potential declines in their property value. Importantly, these homevoters become extremely risk-averse. Even if new condos down the street are probably not going to hurt your home value, why take the chance?

Millennials took longer than past generations to buy their first home in large part due to the Great Recession. But the low interest rates of the early 2020s made mortgage payments affordable to many, even as the price of homes skyrocketed. In their fever to take advantage of low rates, many of these first-time homeowners put it all on the line: Redfin found that “prospective homebuyers who offered all cash were more than four times as likely to win a bidding war as those who didn’t in 2021.” They also found that waiving pre-inspection improved a competitive offer’s likelihood of success by 25 percent. Another report indicates that a record share of homebuyers bought their home sight unseen.

So now a large swath of Americans not only have sunk much of their savings into new homes but also are more likely to come across costly issues with those new homes, given the frenzy with which they bought them. Unlike their older counterparts, who likely have more diversified savings portfolios, these young homeowners have tied their money up in their houses. While all homeowners care about the value of their property, it stands to reason that people who bought houses with potential resale-value issues—or who have no other savings to rely on in case of a medical or other financial emergency—will be that much more worried about any potential declines in value.

This is one of the first steps on the road to becoming a NIMBY: Feeling like your entire financial future rests on the worth of a single asset—an asset whose worth you have very little control over. Home values depend on many variables, including local crime rates, the quality of local public schools, the weather, and the ineffable sense that a neighborhood is “cool.” It’s a scary position to find oneself in, particularly in a country that leaves its elderly, sick, and impoverished without a sufficient social insurance net.

It’s possible that younger homeowners may be less prone to NIMBY-ism than their forebears. After all, they are more liberal and likely to be accepting of new neighbors, and they also are less likely to harbor anti-renter sensibilities, given that they spent more of their lives as renters themselves. But I’m worried—when personal finances square up against political ideals, guessing what the winner will be is not hard.


Today’s News

  1. The European Commission proposed a plan to ration natural gas, hoping to avoid a winter energy crisis should Russia cut back gas exports.
  2. A Georgia judge ordered Rudy Giuliani to testify in a criminal investigation into election interference.
  3. The disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife and son.


Evening Read
An illustration of children sitting around a television
Max Guther

By Alexis Madrigal

(A 2018 story from the Atlantic archive)

ChuChu TV, the company responsible for some of the most widely viewed toddler content on YouTube, has a suitably cute origin story. Vinoth Chandar, the CEO, had always played around on YouTube, making Hindu devotionals and little videos of his father, a well-known Indian music producer. But after he and his wife had a baby daughter, whom they nicknamed “Chu Chu,” he realized he had a new audience—of one.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood in "Nope," written, produced, and directed by Jordan Peele.
Universal Pictures

Read. A poem for Wednesday, “Portrait of the Artist With the Family Dog.”

Watch. Jordan Peele’s Nope is spectacular, indulgent, and brutal. You won’t be able to look away.

Play our daily crossword.

Republicans have already kicked up a storm about how corporations willing to help their employees obtain abortions are actually just exploiting them so that they will keep working. But corporate America’s advocacy on the issue is not so straightforward. Today, The New Republic published an article reporting that CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the nation, is directing its local branches in states including Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas to ensure that a prescription being filled for misoprostol or methotrexate is not going to be used to induce an abortion. Some drugs, such as methotrexate, that can be used to end a pregnancy are also used to treat illnesses (such as lupus). It seems clear to me that fear of liability is going to make corporations extremely risk-averse when it comes to aiding women who are seeking out necessary reproductive care—especially as many states consider giving their residents the ability to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.

— Jerusalem

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.