Grant investigator: Alexander Berger
This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. California YIMBY also reviewed this page prior to publication.
The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $500,000 to California YIMBY (short for “yes-in-my-back-yard”) for general support. As part of our focus on land use reform to promote housing affordability, we’ve supported a number of advocacy organizations in high-wage, high-cost regions (e.g. Seattle and Washington, D.C.) to push for more housing. California YIMBY is a new organization started by advocates we funded previously who successfully sponsored legislation in 2017 to strengthen the state’s Housing Accountability Act, and who subsequently saw sufficient opportunity and need for statewide legislative advocacy to justify a new organization.
We see advocacy aimed at changing California state policies to allow more housing as a promising philanthropic opportunity for several reasons:
- California accounts for 12% of the U.S. population and roughly half of most expensive metro areas in the country.1
- As a result of the state’s high housing costs, California has the highest rent-inclusive poverty rate in the country, and a high rate of out-migration by low-income residents.2
- As we’ve seen with our work on criminal justice reform, state-level advocates can often be very effective in winning statewide victories without enormous resources. By comparison, we expect building city-by-city support for reforms to be much slower and more costly, and in some cases potentially impossible.3
- Housing markets tend to operate at a wider geographic scope than current responsibility for housing approvals is allocated: people looking for housing do not necessarily stop their search at the city limits.4 States have the constitutional authority to determine land use and may be able to more effectively balance the costs and benefits of new housing approvals, but there has not been a lot of experimentation on this front.5
- There is a fairly widespread consensus that California should be building millions more homes.6 Between reducing rents and allowing more people to be able to move to or remain in high-wage areas, we roughly estimate the social value of each new home in coastal California to be in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, which means that even a very small improvement in the state’s chances of meeting that goal would make this grant highly cost-effective.7
California YIMBY reports that they will use our support to hire several additional staff members to focus on organizing, communications, digital outreach, data and analytics, and finance and operations.
While we think the premise of a statewide organization like this is quite promising, we see this grant as unusually risky for reasons broadly similar to those we have described in writing about previous grants in this area. In addition, we generally expect new organizations like this one to face challenges with recruiting the right team and growing effectively, which adds an additional layer of complexity.
We also recommended a smaller matching grant for funding California YIMBY raises from other sources before September 1, which we will write up separately when the match is complete and the amount is finalized.
This grant was made by a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, to which we occasionally make funding recommendations.
|California Department of Housing and Community Development 2017||Source (archive)|
|California Legislative Analyst’s Office 2015||Source (archive)|
|California Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018||Source (archive)|
|de la Roca and Puga 2017||Source (archive)|
|Dillon 2018||Source (archive)|
|Fox 2018||Source (archive)|
|HUD SOCDS Building Permits Database||Source (archive)|
|Hwang and Quigley 2006||Source (archive)|
|McKinsey Global Institute 2016||Source (archive)|
|Quigley and Rosenthal 2005||Source|
|San Francisco Office of Economic Analysis 2015||Source (archive)|
|Zillow 2018||Source (archive)|