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"YIMBY" call to build more housing divides booming San Francisco

"YIMBY" call to build more housing divides booming San Francisco

When maths teacher Sonja Trauss saw 20 people show up for an open house in San Francisco, she realised a simple truth about housing in the city - there simply isn't enough to go around.

The realisation prompted Trauss, 36, to start a political movement to counter the influence of so-called Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) homeowners who oppose new building in their neighborhood - and call it Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY).

"If your solution is no building, it's not going to work," Trauss told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from the office of the campaign, which has chapters nationwide and a handful of sympathetic officials in the California state legislature.

As San Franciscans elect a new mayor on Tuesday, this rising political movement with a platform to press for more construction is at the centre of a heated debate about who gets to live in the city by the bay.

The city of 800,000 once so diverse it was known as Baghdad by the Bay has grown steadily whiter and richer, according to U.S. census data, with a median income over $100,000.

In the first quarter of 2018, the median house price soared to US$1.665 million, a nearly one-quarter increase over the previous year, according to Paragon, a real estate brokerage.

But the YIMBY approach has ruffled feathers among long-time affordable housing advocates.

They see the build-everywhere policy - which views those who resist luxury housing in minority urban neighborhoods with the same disdain as opposition to low-income housing in rich suburbs - as short-sighted and divisive.

"They're creating a bad rap for themselves, an enormous amount of conflict, and not necessarily creating a good political reputation for their movement," said affordable housing activist Peter Cohen.

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