The blog of the Urban Institute
August 4, 2011


August 4, 2011

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?”


As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.


The answer to WNIMBY is that Anacostia, and our ward in general, is SATURATED with social service agencies. If adding social service agencies is so much of an improvement, why not locate this one to Adams Morgan or Friendship Heights? Our ward is finally healing, and should be given a fair chance to do so. Springing this on the residents and businesses, as well as any potential businesses, if unfair. More importantly, building a women's shelter right on Good Hope Road, is unfair to the women who are expected to stay there; they'd have very little privacy, and would be subject to possible attacks, and not because it's Ward 8, but because women congregated outside would attract males and possibly the tip off any abusive husbands/boyfriends that they'd be trying to avoid. Did anyone think this through?
I would have to agree with your statements that the assisted housing needs to be well designed and administered, and should be more spread out, instead of concentrated in specific areas of a city. High concentrations of assisted living residences cause getto areas. Assisted living residences that are not maintained cause serious negetive impacts to neighbourhoods.