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Faced with an affordable housing crisis, this Tampa native is saying ‘yes’ to development

Nathan Hagen, the founder of YIMBY Tampa, wants to modernize the rules for building housing.
Nathan Hagen, 31, rides his bike from Hyde Park to where he works in downtown Tampa  on Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Hagen, who leads YIMBY Tampa, which is a group using urban planning and zoning solutions to advocate for affordable housing, said his commute gives him an “up close and personal view of the housing that we have and how it’s different in every neighborhood.” Earlier Hagen attended Mayor Castor’s “Coffee with Castor” at Alessi Bakery in West Tampa. “How do we get this done? The city needs to be more clear to the neighborhoods what that looks like,” Hagen said he asked the mayor.
Nathan Hagen, 31, rides his bike from Hyde Park to where he works in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Hagen, who leads YIMBY Tampa, which is a group using urban planning and zoning solutions to advocate for affordable housing, said his commute gives him an “up close and personal view of the housing that we have and how it’s different in every neighborhood.” Earlier Hagen attended Mayor Castor’s “Coffee with Castor” at Alessi Bakery in West Tampa. “How do we get this done? The city needs to be more clear to the neighborhoods what that looks like,” Hagen said he asked the mayor. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 24

In 2017, Nathan Hagen moved back to Tampa after a 10-year stint in Gainesville. Like countless Americans, he dreamed of buying his own home and planting roots in the city that raised him.

By the time he was ready to buy, he saw rising prices even in neighborhoods where starter homes were once plentiful. He held off on buying in hopes that the market would cool down. But homes continued to get more expensive with each passing year.

While Hagen, 31, is still stuck renting, many of his friends and peers can’t even afford to do that. Some have been forced to leave the city altogether.

Despite the rapid transformation Tampa has undergone in the past decade, Hagen said the rules for building housing have stayed pretty much the same. In 2021 he founded YIMBY Tampa. The name is a play on Not in My Backyard, a nationwide movement aimed at opposing new development, particularly multifamily housing. In the following interview, Hagen discusses his work with YIMBY in the Tampa Bay area. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is YIMBY Tampa?

YIMBY Tampa stands for yes in my backyard. We’re a chapter of a national group called YIMBY Action. We are here to help our neighbors get used to saying yes to more diverse, affordable and equitable housing options in our communities.

We believe that there’s a fundamental cultural shift that needs to happen for us to address the housing affordability crisis. We believe housing is a human right and that dense, car optional communities are a cornerstone of a society that achieves an equitable climate and quality of life goals.

Your day job is completely unrelated to YIMBY Tampa. What got you interested in housing and zoning issues?

My experience is similar to a lot of people in my age group. I wanted to buy a home and I couldn’t. I tried to figure out, why is everything so expensive? Why are there so few options for someone like me, who doesn’t prefer to drive a car?

I started really digging to understand. I found that in the last decade we built half as much housing per capita as we did the decade before that. Especially multifamily housing has just been historically low.

Tampa’s zoning code is so outdated – it hasn’t been updated since the 1980s – the housing that is getting built right now does not reflect the housing that we need.

I wanted to figure out a way to change the rules so that there’s more room for people like me.

What are some reasons people might say no to building more housing?

There are people still in the city who don’t want to live in a more diverse community. Some people want to be surrounded by people like themselves and they use land use as a weapon to keep their communities segregated.

Other people bought in the neighborhood thinking it was one type of way with one type of housing and they just don’t want to see that character change. They may not understand the context that their community exists in a larger city that’s growing. Or they don’t like the idea of the nuisances that might come with having more neighbors.

You grew up here. How have you seen things change over the years?

I think that the transformation of downtown can’t be understated. It used to be that you couldn’t live downtown, nobody lived there. In the past 10 years there’s been a monumental shift in where people want to live in the city of Tampa. Without a doubt, it’s in the urban core. There are a lot of people, including me, who don’t want to live in a single-family home. They would prefer a central location to a private backyard.

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Why has housing gotten so expensive?

First off, we don’t have enough housing for everyone.

Wages here have been low for a long time. And now we’re having all the inflow of people moving here who are wealthier than the people that were already living here. We’re in the situation where it’s an unfair competition for existing housing.

Another component is the lack of funding invested into building affordable housing. The state legislature has been stealing money from our affordable housing trust fund for years. And now finally the bill is coming due.

What solutions are you advocating for?

We want to re-legalize missing middle housing. So duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, bungalow courts, small apartment buildings. Anything in between a single-family home and a 40-story condo.

Building these diverse types of housing will make it easier for more people to live here at a more affordable price with a better quality of life.

How are you working toward that vision?

We’re partnering with the AARP to have Tampa implement an accessory dwelling unit ordinance.

Another short-term goal of ours is to reduce the parking minimums developers have to follow to build new housing. We have an immense amount of parking in our city. We don’t need more housing for cars, we need housing for people.

But the big impetus for me, the main reason why I started this chapter is the comprehensive plan. The city is required to release one every six years and this is our year. It’s critical that people who want there to be enough housing for all in the city of Tampa start speaking up about the comprehensive plan before it’s done.

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