Fonzie and the Yimbys – global answers to the housing crisis

I guess it’s a generational thing, because I got it right away, whereas younger folk in these parts needed it explaining: in Australia, a self-contained flat above a garage is called a Fonzie Flat, because The Fonz – played by Henry Winkler in the TV show Happy Days – lived in an apartment above the Cunningham family’s garage.

Fonzie Flats are now being actively marketed as self-contained homes in Queensland and New South Wales, either for sale or for rent, in response to a growing shortage of housing which is affordable for people on average incomes.

It’s interesting to realise that we’re not alone in facing a housing crisis. A growing population coupled with too few homes is not purely a British issue it would appear, although I suspect the situation is more acute in the UK purely because we have a higher population density than Australia or the USA.

In the States, meanwhile, the equivalent of Generation Rent is starting to mobilise and we’re witnessing the birth of the Yimby – people willing to say Yes In My Back Yard.

Nimby’s are well known here at home. Pretty much everyone accepts that there are not enough houses to go round, and rent and purchase prices are often too high to be sustainable in the long-term. While politicians may come up with new policies and ideas about how to solve this crisis, the simple fact is that the only realistic solution is to build more houses – as soon as possible.

Ask anyone, most people would agree with that. What many people would not agree with is the need to build more houses close to where they live…Many years ago they were labelled Nimbys – people who said Not In My Back Yard.

Then, of course, there are the ultra-Nimbys. These people seem not to understand that if there is a shortage of homes then the price of existing homes goes up, and that the only way to tackle this shortage is head-on – with more houses. No, for them, that’s not the answer. These ultra-Nimbys are the Bananas – people who say Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere, Near Anyone.

So it’s refreshing to learn about the Yimby. Groups across the West and East coasts of the USA have set themselves up and styled themselves Yimbys, so yes, in modern parlance, it’s now an actual thing. There was even a Yimby conference last year, and there’s a dedicated website, newyorknimby.com.

Yimbys don’t just celebrate new housing projects, they actively lobby for them, turning up at planning meetings to explain to elected officials why they welcome proposals for new homes, and urging developers to come up with plans to provide sufficient homes where they are most needed.

Despite the best efforts of developers to get on with the job here at home, there are few signs of significant policy changes which will improve the situation.

I do like the idea of the Fonzie Flat, although it’s hardly the long-term solution most people who can’t afford a home of their own is looking for.

The UK equivalent would probably be something like a granny flat, but a Fonzie Flat is obviously way more cool, unless your granny rides a motorbike and has an office in the gents.

If you’re looking for communications advice surrounding property development projects; residential or commercial, email Andrew Howard or call us on 01392 466733.

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