In a recent Housing Complex post, Washington City Paper reporter Lydia DePillis discusses whether people who opposed a women’s shelter in Anacostia or a school for at-risk youth in Truxton Circle should be offended by being called “NIMBYs.”
Anyone who works in community development knows that NIMBY, short for “not in my backyard,” often refers to what some would call knee-jerk opposition by current residents to plans to introduce a new housing development, shelter, or any other facility into a neighborhood. Some other colorful terms for the same reaction include NIABY (not in anyone’s backyard), BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone), and NOPE (not on planet Earth).
Understandably, some community residents object to having their concerns reduced to a snappy acronym. They would counter that they have legitimate reason to fear a new development’s impacts on their property values, safety, and quality of life. But are such concerns always justified?
Back in the 1990s, I worked with Urban Institute colleagues to determine whether there were any negative consequences when new public housing, housing voucher families, or supportive housing moved into Denver and Baltimore County communities. Except where concentrations of such housing were high, we found no evidence that it reduced property values or increased crime rates in nearby areas. In fact, single family and duplex public housing in Denver neighborhoods often raised property values relative to those in similar neighborhoods. This boost, we concluded, probably came about because the public housing was well-maintained and operated and because it represented an investment by the city in improving homes in these neighborhoods. (Check out our 2003 book on the findings, Why Not In My Back Yard?)
No good researcher would generalize these results to all circumstances, but they do show that well-designed and administered assisted housing programs don’t necessarily have negative consequences for neighborhoods or neighbors and can even have benefits.
That research confirmed that policy makers and city officials shouldn’t over-concentrate assisted housing in particular areas, a common NIMBY complaint. But if residents were better informed and programs better designed, maybe more people would say “Why not in my backyard?”