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A New Generation of YIMBY Organizers

Kassie Infante does not fit the common stereotype of a YIMBY organizer. A 28-year old Afro-Latinx woman with a Masters in Education from Harvard, Infante has focused on educational equity and racial justice in the private sector, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and government.

Now Infante is the lead organizer for Abundant Housing Massachusetts (AHMA), a group headed by longtime housing activist Jesse Kanson-Benanav. In Generation Priced Out I describe how Kanson-Benanav went from testifying at a public hearing to founding the pro-housing group A Better Cambridge. The group has led Cambridge to become a national model for innovative housing strategies, also offering a model for building power that AHMA hopes to expand statewide.

Infante is excited to play a key role in this expansion. Her journey from education and racial justice activist to mobilizing on behalf of housing may seem like a stretch but she doesn’t see it that way—she recognizes that racial segregation, inadequate schools, and poor health care are inextricably linked to inadequate housing options.

Welcome to the new generation of YIMBY organizers.

“A System That Disenfranchises Working People”

I asked Infante the obvious question: why become a YIMBY organizer? She told me that this job was her “first foray into housing.” She had a lot of friends who had jobs and were doing well but couldn’t afford to live in the cities where they wanted to reside. Having battled against systemic racism in the education system, Infante saw how zoning promoted segregation. This segregation limited Black and Latinx families to “living in zip codes that did not serve the best schools.”

Infante was not always a fan of new housing. “I was that person who saw a new development and thought ‘here come’s gentrification.’ I soon realized that the evidence did not support that conclusion entirely—and that we had an extreme housing shortage.”

Recognizing how the lack of housing options impacted Black and Latinx families’ health and education needs, Infante decided to become a fulltime housing organizer. Among her priorities is “bringing younger people of color into the YIMBY movement.” She is actively engaged in building AHMA’s individual and group membership base.

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AHMA works on housing production, zoning reform and tenant protection laws at both the local and state level. Here are the group’s legislative priorities.

Infante was not always a fan of new housing. “I was that person who saw a new development and thought ‘here come’s gentrification.

It’s top priority state bill is HB 1448/SB 871, which eliminates exclusionary zoning and increases the production of multifamily housing across the state. The measure builds on the landmark 2021 Housing Choice bill that required multi-family housing along transit (it also ended local super-majority voting requirements for upzoning). Referred to as Zoning Reform 2.0, the new bill guides local implementation of the type of critical new state law (California and Washington both failed to pass similar upzoning measures).

The Organizing Challenge

Infante began her job facing a challenge: how to organize, mobilize and inspire people in the absence of personal face to face meetings. Personal meetings are the lifeblood of organizing. Yet the pandemic has largely prevented this. Infante thus spends her days using zoom to conduct outreach, membership recruitment and relationship building.

She is also committed to helping activists on the ground to increase capacity. That is critical for new housing policies to take hold in smaller communities and long disenfranchised neighborhoods. AHMA has an entire committee focused on Boston, whose new mayor, Michelle Wu, has quickly become a leading pro-housing big city mayor.

Infante is recruiting both individuals and groups to join AHMA. Having worked in large political coalitions she recognizes the importance of ensuring access to those at all income and funding levels. A good model for AHMA is the huge coalition assembled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Under Diane Yentel and her organizing staff, NLIHC has finally brought the full power of nationwide housing groups to the national arena. It’s a great coalition model for all states.

Infante could not have joined AHMA at a better time: “We think the potential is huge for AHMA to help end MA’s housing crisis-I believe a pro-housing agenda that also centers tenant protections, and especially, one that recognizes our country’s legacy of racist land use- is a way forward together and creates space for all of us to be a part of the solution.”

That’s a powerful and unifying message for the nation’s affordable housing movement. We’ll keep following Infante’s and AHMA’s progress in the months ahead. In the meantime, the most YIMBY city councils that have embraced zoning reform and increased density—including Berkeley, Cambridge and Culver City–have racially and gender-diverse political leadership. When the YIMBY movement expands, political success follows.