A New Way to Diffuse NIMBYism?

A controversial affordable housing project proposed for Somerville, Mass. diffused community opposition by coordinating with the for-profit developer of an adjacent parcel. Could the partnership provide a template for moderating NIMBYism?

1 minute read

July 10, 2013, 5:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


"Proposals for affordable housing developments elicit predictable opposition, summed up in the familiar acronym,  NIMBY—Not In My Back Yard—is the well-known shorthand for complaints about offensive land uses, offending architectural designs, and traffic disruption," writes Laurie Goldman. "While these concerns are sometimes justified, the discourse frequently veils one of the most pronounced reasons residents oppose affordable housing: fears that the presence of low-income households (and people of color) will increase crime rates, drive down property values, and fundamentally change the neighborhood’s character." 

But by coordinating their plans to build 40 units of workforce rental housing with the for-profit developer of the former funeral home next door to their siteThe Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) may have found a replicable recipe for navigating NIMBY hurdles.

"Taken together, the two projects form a defacto mixed-income development without reducing the number of affordable units SCC is able to provide," says Goldman. "The two developers plan to adopt common design elements so that there are minimal differences between the affordable and market-rate developments.  The fact that each contracts with the same property management company also promises to foster harmonious relations among residents of both complexes."

"The prospects of the coordinated development appear to be having an effect on the NIMBY discourse," she adds. "The comments that followed the joint presentation of the proposal at last week’s Planning Board meeting were decidedly less abrasive."

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