What Is NIMBYism and How Do Affordable Housing Developers Respond to It?

NIMBYism is often expressed as concerns about crime, congestion, schools, property values, and “quality of life.” But when developments are built these fears rarely come to pass.

Read Time: 2 minutes

November 28, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By LM_Ortiz

Suburban Homes

KyleHohler / Shutterstock

NIMBY stands for “Not in My Back Yard.” In the housing world it’s used to describe people, typically existing residents (especially homeowners), who oppose new housing development near their homes—particularly denser or more affordable housing.

Many housing advocates reserve the term NIMBY for residents with substantial privilege who are seeking to preserve that privilege, and not residents opposing development for other reasons, such as fear of displacement. Read more:

NIMBYism is often driven, more or less openly, by racism and classism. But the concerns more commonly voiced are about increased crime, traffic congestion, strain on sewers, overcrowded schools, and lowered property values and “quality of life.” When developments are built, however, these fears rarely come to pass. Some examples:

Nonetheless, community opposition in the permitting stages frequently leads to increased costs and delays in many affordable housing projects. That’s something many developers don’t want to deal with. When NIMBYism is expressed through exclusionary zoning, it can keep affordable housing out of certain communities altogether.

The affordable housing field has many strategies it can use to try to overcome NIMBY opposition and get housing built in places where it has been kept out.

Win the Fight

At the individual project level, developers employ a range of community engagement strategies, rhetorical devices, and design choices to overcome, or at least ease, opposition. For example ...

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