There’s no magic bullet when it comes to fighting NIMBY. Different strategies work at different times, according to several leading affordable housing developers, all of whom have faced NIMBY opposition during their careers.
For some guidance, we asked them and other experts to share their ideas for overcoming opposition.
1. Put a face on the issue.
Give examples of the occupations and the types of people who will live in your affordable housing development. Explaining that city employees or teachers from the local school will be among those eligible to live at the property humanizes the potential residents, said Gary Gorman, president of Gorman & Co., Inc., in Oregon, Wis.
If possible, bring a starting teacher or other residents of an existing tax credit development to speak on behalf of your proposed project. Their testimonials can be very impressive, Gorman said.
2. Build partnerships.
When Robert Greer goes to a community to look at the possibility of developing an affordable housing project, one of the first moves he makes is visiting the mayor and other city officials who can tell him about the local nonprofit community organizations. Local groups are invaluable because they know the area residents and understand the community issues.
“I almost never do an affordable housing development without a local community nonprofit partner,” said Greer, president of The Michaels Development Co., in Marlton, N.J.
He regularly makes a local group part of the project’s general partnership. They become active in decisions about the project’s design and the social services that will be offered. “When it comes off the drawing board, they have a sense of ownership and pride in the development,” Greer said.
Another area is financing. Having a nonprofit partner often helps in the competition for low-income housing tax credits and other financing.
3. Show off successes.
To many people, affordable housing brings to mind images of old, deteriorating public housing developments.
To help overcome NIMBY attitudes, developers need to get people out to tax credit developments so they can see for themselves what they are about and how good they look, said Chris Estes, executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition.
Strong property management is vital. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the industry but one of the most important. “If you have a property that isn’t well managed, it not only haunts you but every other affordable housing development that comes after you,” he said. Conversely, a well-built, well-managed development will look great over the long run and will quickly be seen as a real asset to the community. People’s biggest aversion to the idea of affordable housing is the sense that previous efforts were poorly managed, which resulted in crime and undesirable impacts on the surrounding community.
“One of the biggest things we do is bring in photos of previous developments and encourage people to go to the other developments,” said Matt Greer, CEO of Miami-based Carlisle Development Group. “When people see the photos, there’s a disbelief: These are not affordable properties.”
And, if you have another affordable housing community in the area, get neighbors of that development to testify on its behalf.
Percival Vaz, president and CEO of AMCAL Multi-Housing, Inc., in Agoura Hills, Calif., has also organized mini-bus tours of his developments for city leaders. “Seeing how good the projects look deflects a lot of suspicion and anger and fear,” he said.
In addition, he has provided a list of references for city officials to call.
4. Meet one-on-one.
Developers often start their local outreach efforts by holding a town hall meeting.
It’s a good idea on paper that demonstrates a willingness on the part of the developer to work with a community, but be careful, said Patrick Slevin, former mayor of Safety Harbor, Fla., and CEO of The Slevin Group, a public relations firm specializing in land-use cases.
A large meeting often benefits the NIMBYists by introducing different opponents to one another, Slevin said. They can also hijack the meeting with their issues, and a contentious meeting can generate negative news coverage.
As a result, private one-on-one meetings are often more productive for the developer.