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When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism


How does spatial scale affect support for public policy? Does supporting housing citywide but “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) help explain why housing has become increasingly difficult to build in once-affordable cities? I use two original surveys to measure how support for new housing varies between the city scale and neighborhood scale. Together, an exit poll of 1,660 voters during the 2015 San Francisco election and a national survey of over 3,000 respondents provide the first experimental measurements of NIMBYism. While homeowners are sensitive to housing’s proximity, renters typically do not express NIMBYism. However, in high-rent cities, renters demonstrate NIMBYism on par with homeowners, despite continuing to support large increases in the housing supply citywide. These scale-dependent preferences not only help explain the deepening affordability crisis, but show how institutions can undersupply even widely supported public goods. When preferences are scale dependent, the scale of decision-making matters.

Corresponding author
Michael Hankinson is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Quantitative Policy Analysis Oberlin College (
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I would like to thank Ryan Enos, Jennifer Hochschild, Ed Glaeser, David Luberoff, Jonathan Spader, Chase Harrison, three anonymous reviewers, and the participants of the American Politics Research Workshop, the Urban Social Processes Workshop, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies Seminar Series at Harvard for helpful feedback. This research was supported by grants from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, the Eric M. Mindich Research Fund for the Foundations of Human Behavior, and Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:

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