How we created a YIMBY group… and you can too!

When I moved from Cambridge to Somerville in 2016, I expected to continue the pro-housing activism I had begun as a member of A Better Cambridge (ABC) but, to my surprise, there was no YIMBY-style group advocating for smart growth in Somerville.

Jesse Kanson-Benanav of ABC and Anabelle Rondon of MA Smart Growth Alliance connected me with some similarly-minded people in Somerville and encouraged us to fill that gap. At our first meeting, nearly 30 people gathered at my home, and discussed what concerned us: the ever-increasing prices, and the need to create more and better opportunities for everyone who wants to live in Somerville.

We agreed on a name, and Somerville YIMBY came to be.

The biggest challenge when we started the group was translating the initial interest from our community into ongoing conversation and action. I took three immediate steps after our first meeting as a group:

  • Established an announcement newsletter

  • Created a Facebook Page and a Twitter profile

  • Established a private mailing list/web forum for everyone who expressed interest to remain connected in an ongoing fashion

Early on, a core set of people demonstrated a strong commitment to our mission, through ongoing conversation within the group, attendance at public meetings, and participation in drafting public comments. Capitalizing on this passion, I organized this group into a steering committee, and we gathered and carved up responsibilities amongst ourselves. We have built momentum by maintaining continuous conversations amongst ourselves and with the larger community.

Divvying up ownership and responsibility for key pieces of our communications efforts is the “secret sauce” to keeping that going. Some examples:

  • Have each person choose an elected official to connect with

  • Ask one person to own the Facebook Page, and another the Twitter profile

  • Ask one person to write copy for the website, and another to be their editor

And, when specific concerns come up, decide who will be the point person, and let them organize what needs be done.

A particularly vital part of our efforts is attending public meetings. Yet none of us can be at every one of them. Somerville alone has dozens every week! Instead, we discuss amongst ourselves, and one or two of us will volunteer to attend, then report back on what was presented or discussed, the mood, and particular sticking points that came up. We make sure to thank whomever attended, and discuss if anything merits further attention, focusing on where we can push for smart growth principles like less parking and greater density near transit.

A regular group meeting has been our best avenue to meet and welcome new members. We host (and I facilitate) an open, public meeting once a month at a local restaurant. Moving forward, we aim to continue those monthly meetings in a community space and vary the day and time to be more inclusive of people’s schedules. We’re also working to increase diversity amongst our attendees in order to learn from one another and expand our point of views. If you have any ideas to diversify our group or know people who would be interested in joining us, let me know!

To sum everything up:

  • Ask your members to own specific elements, and follow up on their execution

  • Communicate regularly

  • Meet regularly & publicly

  • Be inviting & make use of social media to create awareness for your group

We’d love to connect with other groups concerned about housing and smart growth throughout the region and build coalitions to help solve our housing crisis together!

Please reach out to Jeff directly, sign up for their mailing list on their website, and engage with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Jeff Byrnes is a member of the steering committee of Somerville YIMBY, a housing activism group started April 2017. Our goal: encouraging smart growth through transit-oriented, walkable, and attainable housing.


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