In the last 50 years arguing in the case favour of new homes has felt like warfare. And asymetric warfare at that.
Firstly we know our politicians consistently argue passionately for more homes in Parliament and at party conferences. But locally, MPs, Mayors, and Councillors routinely run for election on a ticket of stopping housing development. The most recent edition of Northumberland News proclaims successes in stopping housing development and removing cycle lanes.
And secondly local and national media traditionally find it easy to find column inches and airtime for the press releases produced by local housing objectors. But its much harder to find the local people who will speak up in favour of new housing in order to present a balanced story. No wonder much needed new homes, in line with local and national policy, are often presented as local people being the victims of a harmful pollution imposed from above.
Classic ‘good’ vs evil’ territory.
But things are changing and the reason is social media.
Nobody in the pub had heard of Priced Out three years ago. Now some people have. Priced Out consistently present strong and persuasive messages on the importance of more housing and any journalist worth their salt can easily find them to balance up an anti-housing story.
Yimby groups are popping up across the UK. Usually where they are most needed. London Yimby, Oxford Yimby, Cambridge Yimby, even Yorkshire YIMBY are on Twitter and Facebook.
Pubgoers still don’t know about the Yimby groups yet. But they will do in two/three years time. These grass roots groups are local and do fantastic work in promoting the harms of housing undersupply, the benefits of new affordable housing, and countering objections.
Social media is their weapon of choice because its popular with the demographic hardest hit by the housing crisis. And importantly, they often provide an easy-to-find voice for mainstream media looking for a counterweight to the anti-development voices.
Changes in social media now mean that even housebuilders can use social media positively. We can broaden our messaging to include local people who are more likely to support our proposals rather than just those who happen to live right next to the site. We can elicit views from recent customers who have recently experienced the positive life-change of moving into their new home.
And we can more easily notify potential customers who we know are looking for a new modern home and may be willing to support our scheme. Whilst social media is still a risky game, long gone are the days when housebuilders considered it as something to be avoided at all costs.
One thing is for sure. Unless communities and politicians feel that that there is a local democratic case in favour of new homes we will struggle. We need to step up.
Mark my words – Yimby will be widely understand in the pubs of the UK soon.