By Robert Friant, Managing Director External Affairs, CSH
One of the biggest challenges facing affordable, supportive housing developers today is NIMBYism. Despite the clear crises in urban regions where sky-high rental costs are out of reach for many, creating homes for lower-income people can be a tough sell. The obstacles largely emanate from residents who may say they favor affordable housing to end homelessness and poverty, but are the first to cry “Not in my backyard!” (NIMBY) once a project is actually proposed.
With over 25 years of experience, CSH has found there are no silver bullets instantaneously changing the minds of hardcore opponents. There are, however, constructive steps supportive housing providers are taking to secure wider community support while also debunking some of the myths surrounding affordable housing. Here are some tips to address NIMBYism:
1. Keep it 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. Neighbors will find out and if you are not telling your story, someone else will and likely with a bunch of erroneous, harmful information inserted to match their biases. Engage the community fully, early and often. First spend time identifying local leaders – and not just the elected officials. Do not avoid houses of worship or vibrant community organizations you may not be familiar with or understand. Meet with leaders and plan community-wide gatherings with them. It’s icing on the cake if you can attract some to an advisory board focused on the project.
2. Be Respectful, Not Stereotypical
Fact of life: We don’t all agree on everything. That’s not a reason to call those who oppose your views bad names or try to paint them as horrible human beings. Show respect for everyone. It’s tough to stay cool when the need for affordable housing — whether it’s for the working poor, supportive housing for people with mental illness, units for homeless families, etc. — is apparent and urgent. And supportive housing developers often tell us that elements of racism or classism are present in these battles. But there can be legitimate concerns related to density, traffic, property values or crime. Let’s face it, any development can conjure up the worst thoughts and so this is an opportunity to attack myths about affordable, supportive housing, especially since there are now ample studies proving 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 help turn them up at community meetings. There is nothing wrong with getting supporters at the table. And don’t be afraid to engage and educate the media. Reporters by and large are not highly paid…they more often than not personally get the real need for affordable housing.
4. Your Message Matters
As already touched upon, the term “affordable housing” is sometimes equated with images of crime-ridden complexes. Let’s also acknowledge many Americans struggle but are not eligible for help with their housing, which can cause a degree of resentment. So keep your messaging focused on the community needs and positive outcomes like diversity and economic benefits everyone enjoys.
5. Make It Personal – The Stories, That Is
The CSH Speak Up! initiative proves the power of the personal story. The formerly homeless people who are part of this program share their lives – from the tragedies of homelessness to their transitions out of it to the transformations that came once they found supportive housing – in community forums. The best debater, the most popular politician cannot move a crowd as effectively as those with lived-experience. When neighbors meet our advocates and see what good people they are, 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!”
These are just some of the actions to combat NIMBYism, and we also want to hear from you. If you have thoughts about these themes or any helpful resources you can share with colleagues, we encourage you to share your questions and reactions on the Supportive Housing Resource Exchange. The Resource Exchange is an ongoing forum in a message-board format where supportive housing providers and advocates share lessons learned, ask questions, provide answers and ideas with peers. It is active 24/7 all-year round. Foothold Technology will also host an in-person version of the Resource Exchange at the upcoming CSH Summit 2018 in Los Angeles from June 5-7, and we encourage you to join the dialogue either from your office, home, or at the conference.