Affordable Housing: Not in my back yard?

We hear it all the time: “I support the idea of affordable housing, but just not in this neighbourhood.” This sentiment is commonly referred to as Not In My Back Yard or ‘NIMBY’ and is one of the most significant challenges that we face in gaining community support – a vital piece of receiving municipal approval – for affordable housing developments across the region.

What Is NIMBY?

Typically, NIMBY stems from concerns about neighbourhood change, ranging from concerns about the presumed characteristics of newcomers to concerns over neighbourhood impacts such as building height and design, traffic, noise, etc.
The most typical concerns voiced by community groups include:

“Our property values will go down”

  • The Province of BC has published a series of guides on NIMBY and in no instance was there evidence of a negative impact on property values. In fact, in some instances the property values surrounding the neighbourhood increased.

“Increasing density will cause too much traffic”

  • Higher density neighbourhoods typically attract residents with lower levels of car ownership and provide for new opportunities for other forms of transportation (bike paths, bus, walking, etc.)

“Increasing density will strain public services and infrastructure”

  • High-density neighbourhoods are less demanding on infrastructure than lower density developments, as they require less square meters of paving or fewer meters of water pipes, etc. to service the same number of units.

“New residents won’t ‘fit’ into our neighbourhood”

  • No one has to ask permission to live in a neighbourhood, nor is it legal to “people zone”, which would include restricting the development of certain types of buildings that would serve a particular tenant group.
  • In many instances the future occupants of a building already live in the neighbourhood; staying with friends, sharing a unit, or are otherwise unstably housed.

“Affordable housing spoils the neighbourhood character”

  • Affordable housing is not affordable because it’s constricted of shabby materials in an unattractive way. In fact, it must meet the same building code requirements and design guidelines of any other development. It’s for these reasons when affordable housing is designed, it must be in a way that fits into the neighbourhood character.

“Affordable housing will mean more local crime”

  • A sense of pride and ownership in the local community has much more effect on reducing levels of crime than density or income levels.
  • A Denver study looked at 146 supportive housing sites, there was absolutely no significant evidence that supportive housing led to increased rates of reported violent, property, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct or total crimes. Further, affordable housing often has a stabilizing effect on a neighbourhood by enabling people to stay in the community.

“Our neighbourhood already has its ‘fair share’ of affordable housing”

  • It is against the law to discriminate against people because of their ethnicity, religion, skin colour or physical/mental abilities, or just because they are poor.

What Can We Do?

There are a number of things the community can do in support of good housing providers that are experiencing NIMBY.

Communication – Early, Open, Frequent, Clear, and Accurate

  • Open and honest communication with neighbourhood residents, municipal officials and the media is important. We must focus on the facts, not the arguments, to educate and inform the community, demonstrate the value of the project and build support.

Work with the Media

  • The media is an effective tool to get a message out to a wide number of people. It’s important to have regular contact with the media to ensure the exposure is positive and the messaging is fact-based and well informed.

Build Relationships with Local Politicians

  • Consult early to educate and inform the individuals and gauge support.
  • Make sure the individuals are aware of the complexity of the issues and solutions.
  • Identify political ‘champions’ who can act in support of developments and initiatives.

Develop a Clear Plan

  • Good planning allows housing providers and community groups to identify and address problems and concerns early on and to develop effective solutions.


  • One of the most important things we, as a community, can do is become involved. Attend community meetings, be present at council meetings to ensure both sides of the story are heard, share experiences to begin to build relationships with community groups, etc. All of this will provide the foundation for strong relationships throughout the community to ensure that there is enough support to continue to build affordable housing options throughout the region.