Editor’s note: The unlikely YIMBYs

From progressives to performers, more voices are speaking up for housing development

Stuart Elliott
Stuart Elliott

Across the country, NIMBYs are turning into YIMBYs. 

A growing number of progressive politicians are taking surprising pro-development stances. The mayors of big cities are actively shilling for projects. And some of the most hardcore voices on the left are being shouted down when they stand in the way of more housing.  

It’s a big shift. For many years, real estate was a political bogeyman in New York. Candidates wouldn’t accept its donations or attend its galas, and the state’s 2019 rent law was the biggest knock to the industry in decades. In California, the default position in many municipalities was approving as little new building as possible.  

But for some politicians, a housing shortage and affordability crisis is shifting the equation away from “not in my backyard.”  

When Mayor Eric Adams preempted the City Council by publicly supporting a controversial rezoning in the Bronx in September, and a socialist Council member backed a major project in Queens (instead of rejecting it outright because it didn’t contain enough affordable housing), it was a sign of change. 

In California, the state seems increasingly impatient with local officials’ failures to address the housing shortage. And as of late last month, Rick Caruso, a prominent real estate developer, had opened a slight lead in the polls ahead of Los Angeles’ mayoral election.

Even pop star Grimes took to Twitter recently to discuss what is surely not Gen Z’s hottest topic: restrictive zoning regulations. 

Warning that her hometown of Austin was at risk of becoming like San Francisco — “where the original population can’t afford to live there anymore due to the tech boom” — she called on her “fellow Texans” to sign a petition pushing to ease restrictions on development.

All this is welcome news for the industry. And also likely good news for architect Bjarke Ingels, who graces our cover this month.  

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Ingels is arguably the most exciting architect working today. He’s designing the expansion of Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, as well as a new terminal at Zurich Airport in Switzerland that will be the largest in the world made entirely of timber.  

In New York, Ingels just wrapped up work for Tishman Speyer on the Spiral, a 65-story office tower in Hudson Yards with descending outdoor terraces that seem like they were carved out of the side of the building, as reporter Kathryn Brenzel writes. And his twisting XI condo towers in Chelsea are emblematic not only of the area’s starchitecture but the biggest developer meltdown of the Covid era. Builder HFZ Capital lost the project to foreclosure, but work recently resumed, under a new developer and with a new name, One High Line. 

Such is the life of an architect — there are a lot of steps between a vision and the reality of a finished building. A pro-development environment can only help.  

“It’s never certain until you cut the ribbon. We’ve broken ground on projects, we’ve reached the basement level on projects, and then for various political, financial, whatever reasons, something of significance happens,” Ingels said. “You just realize that you can never celebrate too soon. Because you don’t know when it’s going to turn into a funeral.” Check out the Closing interview here. 

Elsewhere, residential brokers can use all the help they can get these days, too.  

The rise in mortgage rates has caused the number of deals to drop off significantly following the pandemic run-up. Buyers may jump back in the market if prices drop enough, but that hasn’t happened yet.

All of which means brokerages and their leaders are now in “wartime mode — forced to rapidly cut costs, scale back on investments and focus on survival,” as we write in a package of stories.

You can also hear directly from brokerage CEOs Robert Reffkin, Pam Liebman, Guy Gal and Ryan Serhant at our Miami event on Nov 10. Visit TheRealDeal.com/events for tickets.

Finally, check out our stories about WeWork’s first investor; dysfunction in a system that is supposed to promote minority- and women-owned construction companies; and Hurricane Ian’s impact on South Florida real estate — yet another reason we’ll see more (re)building, no doubt. 

Enjoy the issue.