NIMBY is one of the biggest challenges facing affordable, supportive housing developers today. Despite the clear crises in urban regions where sky-high rental costs make finding housing difficult for many, creating homes for lower-income people can still be a tough sell. The obstacles largely come from residents who may say they favor affordable housing to end homelessness and poverty, but are also the first to cry “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) once a project is actually proposed.
With over 25 years of experience, CSH has found that there are no silver bullets that instantly change the minds of hardcore opponents. There are, however, constructive steps supportive housing providers can take to secure wider community support while also debunking some of the myths surrounding affordable housing. Here are some tips to address NIMBY in supportive housing projects:
1. Keep the Conversation Around NIMBY Proactive, Positive, and Productive
It may be hard to believe in this day and age, but civil conversations and respect still go a long way. Trying to “sneak in” approval for new housing before anyone in the community catches on is a surefire prescription for disaster. If you’re not telling your own story around the benefits of supportive housing, others may spread erroneous, harmful information. Engage the community fully, early, and often.
First, spend time identifying local leaders – and not just the elected officials. Consider houses of worship or local community organizations as well. Meet with leaders of all kinds and plan community-wide gatherings with them. It’s icing on the cake if you can attract a local leader to sit on an advisory board focused on the supportive housing project.
2. Remain Respectful of Opposing Opinions
Show respect for everyone. It’s tough to stay cool when the need for affordable housing — whether it’s for the working poor, people living with mental illness, families experiencing chronic homelessness, etc. — is apparent and urgent. Supportive housing developers often tell us that elements of racism or classism are present in NIMBYism. But there can be legitimate concerns related to density, traffic, property values or crime. Challenging NIMBYism is an opportunity to attack myths about affordable, supportive housing with clear data and facts — especially since there are now numerous studies proving that it does not harm property values or increase crime rates.
3. Get Your Supporters Out Too
There are neighbors on your side; don’t discount their impact. Find out who they are and encourage them to come to community meetings. There is nothing wrong with getting supporters at the table. And don’t be afraid to engage and educate the media and reporters.
4. Use Personal Stories to Challenge NIMBY
The CSH Speak Up! initiative proves the power of the personal story. Through this initiative, individuals who were formerly homeless share their experiences – from their struggles of experiencing homelessness to the transformations that came from finding supportive housing. When community members meet our advocates and learn about their lived experiences, many of their unfounded fears are put to rest. It’s also important to showcase some of the beautiful supportive housing that is already out there. When people see how nice it looks, the response is usually a universal: “I’d live there!”
*This post has been edited from an original blog post by guest writer Robert Friant, Managing Director External Affairs, CSH