Blog Spotlight: Women Leaders in the YIMBY Movement

March 28, 2024

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Tatiana Morales with members of YIMBY Action at YIMBYtown 2024 in Austin, Texas

One of the best parts of joining the YIMBY movement is getting to hear the unique perspectives of so many different kinds of people. Our volunteers are passionate, knowledgeable, and always willing to help new people enter the fold of the pro-housing movement.

In Tampa, Florida Tatiana Morales is one of the volunteer leaders for our YIMBY Tampa chapter. She is working to not only diversify the YIMBY movement by advocating for intentional actions to promote inclusivity in our spaces, but also to diversify her city so that all kinds of people can enjoy everything Tampa has to offer. She recently spoke to us about how the housing shortage is impacting her local community, and why aligning on a shared vision of housing abundance is so critical for Tampa residents.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How did you get involved in the YIMBY movement?

A: I grew up in Miami, so when I graduated from college it felt like a good fit to move to Tampa. But as I began to settle in and get to know the community, I was deeply shocked by the disgusting caliber of housing that I could afford on my minimum wage salary. The home I could afford to live in had severe roach infestations that caused me really bad health issues.

I have challenges with skin problems and asthma, so the poor quality of my housing started messing with my life. The landlord and property management company did nothing to help me even though I reported it. As far as I know, they’re still one of the biggest players in the rental market in Tampa today. In that process, I learned a lot about tenant’s rights. Then as I learned about tenant’s rights, I learned about the deep history of how housing and zoning have been used to discriminate against people in many ways. Through my learning about the history of housing discrimination in the city, I got connected to our chapter lead and founder, Nathan Hagen, who inspired me to take a hard look at my city and ask questions about where different people live and why they live there.

Q: What are some real-life instances in Tampa that illustrate how housing discrimination is impacting people?

A: Going back to the last point I touched on, you start to see trends with who lives in what neighborhoods quickly. For example, on an island like Davis Island, which is one of the nicest places in the city across from downtown, I’ve rarely if ever seen Black people there. There are such clear divides.

I have a lot of friends in the arts who talk constantly about how they can't go to shows or do other activities because they live an hour outside the city. These artists in our community often are the folks who have faced displacement in Tampa. Residents who are Black and Brown, have debt, and work minimum wage jobs are taking jobs in the middle of the city and then moving far out into the suburbs because there is no housing closer to their jobs that they can afford. It’s sad because the lack of affordable homes impacts our community in so many ways. When artists are pushed out, we’re not only blocking groups of people from pursuing career paths that they are passionate about, but we also lose a lot of richness and culture in our community. I’ve personally watched displacement destroy my friendships and different communities.

When you’re in college, you don’t realize how valuable it can be to have all your friends live 15 minutes away from you. In my own experience, being able to constantly see and interact with my friends helped me grow in so many ways. That close proximity allowed me to build a genuine community. But then when I got out of that community and into the larger city community, I felt alone and isolated because so much of my city is designed to separate people. Now, I work with my other YIMBY Tampa leads to really build our community up because when you push poor and marginalized folks out, you’re removing the people who build up the undercurrent of your city. Then you’re left with this city that only serves certain people. So I do everything I can to turn those tides and help bring people into that larger group consensus that this problem with our housing system is already destroying us and getting rapidly worse. I’m working to let people know that we have a lot of tools to push back and to make changes that could make the city a place where everyone can live in nice, quality places with a future of abundant housing.

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Downtown Tampa Skyline

Q: Why do you think grassroots activism is such an important tool for housing policy reform?

A: In America, a lot of our country is designed to encourage isolation and individualism. We live in one of the largest countries in the world but rarely communicate within our broad communities. Grassroots organizing taught me that it’s incredibly valuable to talk to your neighbors so that we can all align on the problems we need to fix and what it will take to create solutions. Without communication, it becomes harder to teach each other things that will benefit us all.

For example, the first time I saw a map of the different zoning classifications in Tampa, I literally did not understand what was in front of me. I was so confused that I became overwhelmed. I was lucky that I had people around me who were urban planners who could explain what these terms meant in basic language. Instead of having to understand very technical housing terms, YIMBY volunteers were easily able to explain in terms like this: There is historic displacement and segregation that is being rapidly increased by some profit seekers and a very small minority of people who are very vocally saying “our neighborhood cannot change.”

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Tatiana and her co-panelists delivering a presentation on how to diversify the YIMBY movement at YIMBYtown 2024 in Austin, Texas

When we talk about grassroots organizing, we’re talking about people who are meeting their neighbors and figuring out how we talk to the community leaders and bring them in so that we can figure out how to stop pushing our neighbors out. To create change, it really does take being on the ground and directly going door to door and talking to people. It’s important to fill educational gaps for people who are not housing experts. People like our bus drivers or our teachers are folks who are part of our community who may not have information on how they can make housing more abundant for themselves. We have to connect with them because when you ignore them, then they get angrier and join the NIMBY pool.

That’s happened a lot in Tampa where the NIMBY pool is filled with people that this system doesn't benefit. For those people, I try to point out who the system truly benefits and how we can make it better for everyone. YIMBY Tampa volunteers are great at showing how in our community, fighting to keep 85 percent of our homes as single-family is only going to keep the population widely rich and white. Part of the organizing we do here is simply letting people know that if we just made one, two, or three percent of our housing stock into duplexes and townhomes, our neighborhoods could be just as beautiful as they are now while allowing us to accommodate so many more people that will make our city more vibrant, profitable, and successful. It’s all about sharing our game plan where everyone wins.

Are you curious to see what Tatiana and her fellow YIMBY Tampa volunteers are up to? Take a look at what they’re working on by visiting their website here.