The first public meeting on zoning I ever attended compared micro-housing construction to bombing cities. For many urbanists, comments like this are used to identify and categorize people as NIMBYs. The NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) label is frequently used to belittle or demean but it also tells a narrative about motivations and politics. While the controversial NIMBY label is a common, well-understood term, “homevoter” is portrayed as it’s equivalent from the academic sphere. But are NIMBYs and homevoters really the same?
History Of The Homevoter Hypothesis
The word ‘homevoter’ has a distinct history and meaning, explained by the homevoter hypothesis.
In 1956, Charles Tiebout published A Pure Theory Of Local Expenditures as a direct response to Paul Samuelson’s theory about public goods. Samuelson created a model suggesting public goods couldn’t be delivered efficiently due to issues like the free-rider problem. Tiebout countered, theorizing that communities will compete for residents. Competition will result in services, taxes, and amenities that efficiently reflect what residents want, he argued.
William Fischel admired Tiebout’s theory and coined the word ‘homevoter.’ In his book The Homevoter Hypothesis, he explained how homevoters underpin the Tiebout theory. Although the two never met, Fischel dedicated his book to Tiebout and spent a chapter providing personal background, remarking on his personality and humor. Fischel’s book and the homevoter hypothesis attempt to explain on-the-ground mechanisms that underpin Tiebout’s model.
The book begins by observing that many people’s largest asset is their home and that it’s uniquely vulnerable. The asset’s future value can’t really be insured or diversified. People are left with few options to protect its value, and Fischel believes they resort to political activism. These politically engaged homeowners are ‘homevoters.’ Since homeowners are a majority in many communities, homevoters dominate municipal policy, supporting taxes and services that add value to their homes while opposing landfills and other uses that decrease values. Property values act as a signal to homeowners, guiding their activism. Consequently, homevoter activism guides political decision-making. Property values drive municipal competition underpinning the Tiebout model.