Busting The NIMBY Myth of Trickle Down Housing

push the needle
4 min readFeb 7, 2022

There is no such thing as “trickle down housing”. You may have heard this misunderstood economic analysis at a community meeting or in the Seattle Times. The problem with fighting for housing in this era of “Not In My Back Yard” activism is people are not making arguments in good faith. They will throw everything against the wall hoping just one of them sticks and city councils won’t pass that upzone to their neighborhood.

Trickle down economics was a failed policy that put cash in the hands of the few and held high hopes that they would simply gift it to the working class in the form of bonuses and wage increases. Politicians simply believed if they relaxed the tax code to allow revenue to stay within businesses, that this is the natural course of action.

The trickle down housing NIMBYs fear is quite charming and doesn’t destroy neighborhoods.

It’s easy to pull this same ideology forward and assume that relaxing housing codes is no different than relaxing the tax code. And, in theory, letting what so many refer to as “greedy developers”, get more supply of houses and more opportunity to make money. A common scare tactic in left-leaning west coast cities is equating anything to Reaganomics. This is with hopes their neighbors will join NIMBYs masking their self interest with bad faith talking points.

The difference between trickle down economics and housing is simple. People like money. Money is what everyone wants, and people like to hold on to it and use it. When we have given tax holidays to big businesses, they usually toss out a small percentage to the working folk and hold on to the rest. AT&T in 2017 dished out $200 million in one-time bonuses and held on to $800 million for themselves. With money, there is no punishment to hoard it all for yourself, which is a fundamental issue with Reaganomics.

Housing is the opposite of money, housing costs money to possess. So while some may say relaxing the zoning codes just lets developers build more housing and profit, they also will have to rent or sell more housing or else lose money. Just ask any mom-and-pop landlord who will tell you they have 60-days to fill their place or they start losing money. No developer hoards empty homes. They sell them. They rent them. They need to in order to get into the black.

Again, unlike money, housing needs to be offloaded. Especially new housing. Have you ever been to a car dealership? The longer they hold on to the cars, the worse it gets. Other new cars come along and they need to get those models off the lot. That’s because cars, like housing, are not cash and thus the problems of “trickle down economics” does not apply. In the sense of cars and housing, the promises of trickle down economics come true. But we understand that it scares lefty cities when they hear a conservative economic theory may have parts of truth to it.

If we relax the zoning code to add more homes, developers will build them, and sell them for profit. That is not a bad thing. In the case of Seattle, developers are even levied a tax to fund affordable housing around the city, which pulls in over $70 million dollars a year — even in a pandemic. In the early days of Seattle developers and real estate speculators showed up from around the country and built all the old craftsmen bungalow housing we see today. Wallingford is named after developer John Wallingford. Capitol Hill was named by a developer who thought Seattle was about to be named the state capitol. And Fremont was named after a developer from Fremont, Nebraska.

This poll conducted by Sightline Institute shows that most of the state voters are okay with letting denser housing solutions be the norm, even if developers make money.

We need housing supply. Developers build housing. We buy it. This is how it always worked up until recently. We need to get back to the basics here. Seattle alone is 50,000 homes short of matching where it was a decade ago with relationship to jobs. The state is in even worse shape, being short 400,000 homes.

It’s time to stop listening to bad faith arguments about trees, parking, daylight and trickle down housing. By this point in the debate, the elected officials and city planners all know these arguments are not intended to sway them, but to sway other neighbors into being NIMBYs. Sightline just released a poll that said 75% of people are fine with sixplexes being legal in Washington cities, so maybe this isn’t exactly working. Let’s follow through and maybe the housing production will go faster than a slow trickle.



push the needle

Architectural rambler pining for a more sustainable Seattle. Density advocate | Transit advocate | Family housing advocate | @pushtheneedle (twitter)