By Eve Picker
Confronting NIMBY-ism with community-oriented development strategies
If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to the housing market, you know that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. Cities across the country are experiencing heightened levels of homelessness and housing insecurity, with the problem being most severe in West Coast cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. There is no single reason for the housing crisis, but a major contributing factor is the rampant NIMBY-ism that affects our communities, from the soaring heights of Billionaire’s Row in San Francisco to suburban bedroom communities outside of Tampa.
How can developers avoid the roadblocks created by “Not in My Backyard” local stakeholders?
Share your vision
It is critical that you show local stakeholders how your vision can improve their neighborhood and their lives. For example, in many housing crisis-afflicted cities, there is a push to rezone neighborhoods to permit ADUs or accessory dwelling units. ADUs allow for the construction of additional residences on lots zoned for single-family residences. Think a small home on a lot that already has an existing structure.
For many years these developments were opposed by neighborhood groups and other interested parties. Concerns about traffic, quality of new residents and overcrowding prevented any serious headway from being made. However, housing pressures, alongside coordinated education and outreach efforts with local communities, allowed developers, many of them socially-conscious, to begin constructing ADUs. This has led to an increase in ADU construction in LA County from about 150 a year, to 5,000 a year in 2018, with expectations to hit 10,000 or more in 2019.
Embrace alternative transportation
Even ten years ago, building a new urban development without a designated parking area, or resident-available on-street parking, would have been unthinkable in most of the country. Many projects were and still are built for the car economy. Many of the concerns local groups have with new development are in some way related to cars, traffic and not enough parking. By building in ways that minimize the impact of cars on local neighborhoods, developers can alleviate residents’ concerns about the project in question.
Work with local businesses whenever possible
A study by the private thinktank Civic Economics found that for every 100 dollars spent at local businesses, 48% of that money stayed within the community, compared to 14% for chain stores. This study, and countless other pieces of research, show what most of us have known for a while- keeping capital within a community leads to more sustainable, healthier, economic growth in that region. You can help the local community and build goodwill with existing stakeholders by patronizing or pledging to patronize local businesses. Fewer people will oppose your project if they see a direct financial incentive to them and their community.
Involve locals in the process
People need to be seen and heard. Much of the opposition to development projects comes from a place of fear. People are afraid they are being left behind or that their lives will change for the worse. If you clearly outline your plans, involve the current residents in decisions, and keep your word, people will feel included and be much less likely to oppose your project. You can set up community outreach meetings, maintain an information email letter about the project, or work with nonprofits and other groups to connect with the local community.
You won’t be able to alleviate every NIMBY neighbor concern- particularly if those concerns are driven by concrete financial factors, like property values. However, if you use your head and consider how your project will impact others, you will be able to reduce their numbers or the vociferousness of their demands.