The “Yes In My Back Yard” movement in favor of more housing construction recently notched a big win in California. One bill (AB 2011) upzones many commercial areas to allow for construction of multifamily apartments. Another bill (AB 2097) eliminated the requirement that developers provide parking spaces in developments near mass transit, even if they prefer not to.  A recent blog post by Darrell Owens discusses the political economy of these changes:

The [building] Trades knew the legislature was desperate to pass a housing bill and made clear that all new housing needed to be built by unions exclusively. In 2020, they demonstrated their seriousness by single-handedly smoking the entire housing agenda that year and threatened to do so again by opposing AB 2011.

But this time more unions got into the game: the Carpenters union, which also represents many construction workers, supported AB 2011 and rallied loudly. In the legislature, there’s a world’s worth of difference between supporting a bill on paper and mobilizing for a bill you support. The Carpenters and SEIU did the latter, which made all the difference.

The Carpenters’ perspective was that the lack of housing construction led to the decline of construction worker unions and that it was in unions’ best interests to keep housing supply up so that there’s demand for jobs. The other big union supporters of SB 2011 weren’t construction unions at all—it was SEIU, the public workers union, and the school workers union. They supported AB 2011 because their workers were harmed by the housing shortage. This was a profound entry of non-construction unions into the land use debate.

Note:  The Owen’s blog post provides more detailed information on what’s in the two housing bills.

This reminds me a bit of the deregulation of transportation in the 1970s and the 1980s.  Over time, regulations had become so burdensome that they imposed major costs on the economy.  While there are losers from deregulation, it is not a zero sum game.  When regulations are extremely counterproductive, it eventually reaches the point where the winners from deregulation are in a position to gain far more than the insiders would lose.  Indeed, in some cases the regulations can become so burdensome that even the insiders gain from removing them.  I suspect that many communist party insiders gained from market reforms in the 1990s, as they were well placed to take advantage of the new (and much more efficient) market economy.

In recent years, the California construction industry has shrunk dramatically from its heyday in the second half of the 20th century.  It appears that things have reached a tipping point in recent years, where the political coalition for YIMBYism has started to win battles against the still powerful NIMBYs.

PS.  While progress is being made, I won’t be satisfied until a 50-story condo tower is built right next door to my lovely home in a quiet portion of Orange County.