The YIMBYtown 2018 conference that kicks off Thursday at Roxbury Community College will feature about 250 attendees, big local names including Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and one unifying creed.

"YIMBY means yes in my backyard," said Jesse Kanson-Benanav, an affordable-housing developer and activist with the group A Better Cambridge. "We’re a pro-housing movement that’s emerged in Boston and around the United States, in fact around the world, particularly in growing cities that have incredibly high demand for housing."

Ideally, Kanson-Benanav argues, the entire Boston area would ramp up production, particularly of dense multi-family projects — including tony suburbs where “development” can be a dirty word.

"We need Newton and we need Wellesley and we need Acton," Kanson-Benanav said. "We need all the communities, 101 cities and towns in the metropolitan area, the vast majority of which have not produced any new housing."

That could change if a zoning-reform bill that Governor Charlie Baker is pushing becomes law. The legislation would make it easier for municipalities to loosen existing restrictions — but so far, the Massachusetts House hasn’t acted on Baker's proposal.

Kanson-Benanav also says that while the Boston area needs more affordable units — and more government-funded subsidies to facilitate their construction — higher-end developments also have a crucial role to play when it comes to balancing supply and demand and keeping the Boston area affordable.

"There are a lot of people with higher incomes moving to the Boston area," Kanson-Benanav said. "And if we don’t provide housing for them ... they’re just going compete with existing residents for the existing stock of housing. ...They’ll bid up the price of housing, and they’ll exacerbate displacement and gentrification."

But as the YIMBYs try to make their vision of a regional building boom a reality, they’re encountering deep skepticism in some quarters.

"We’re in a fight for the soul of the city," said Lisa Owens, the executive director of City Life / Vida Urbana. The Jamaica Plain-based group is holding a competing housing event, Homes for All, on Saturday, as a rebuttal of sorts to YIMBYtown 2018.

"Working-class people whose incomes are below $60,000 a year, we cannot afford to own a home in the city where we work, where we grew up," Owens said.

As Owens sees it, self-identified YIMBYs have a troubling tendency to put the needs of newcomers over longtime residents and to disregard the perspectives of longtime housing activists like her and her colleagues. What's more, she contends, new development in Boston is almost exclusively high-end because that’s where the money is — and instead of helping low-income people, it's driving them out.

"If you build a thousand new units and they’re luxury, what’s going to happen is, the street over, those folks are going to start — they’re going to see dollar signs in their eyes, rightfully so." Owens said. "And they’re going to raise their rents.

"That is actually what happens," she added. "And I challenge anybody to show me otherwise in the city of Boston."

Asked about the latter objection, Kanson-Benananv didn't entirely dismiss it.

"There may be some truth to the claim that building higher-end housing in some neighborhoods may cause existing housing to go up in price," he said.

Still, he's convinced the big-picture solution for the Boston area is clear: simply put, we need to build like we’ve never built before.

"The reality," he said, "is that we’re at such a deficit of housing in Boston that not building housing ... isn't a solution."