Affordable Housing and Not-in-My-Backyard Opposition

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 27 April 2021 00:00

Recently a resident of East York was ridiculed on social media after telling a television reporter that a parking lot “is the hub, it’s the heart of the community.” The lot is the site of a proposed 64-unit supportive housing project for “people who are exiting homelessness,” says the City of Toronto.

At a rally of residents who oppose the plans, the man being interviewed said, “We’re not saying people don’t need support and people don’t need homes, but to increase the population density with…people going through the most troubling and difficult times of their lives…this may not be the appropriate place to do it.”

And that pretty much sums up most not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) arguments that come up when a new development – especially a social housing development – is proposed near a residential community.

The residents in this case were concerned that they would lose the parking for a nearby arena and sports fields, but their complaints were not a good look.

“Time and time again, outspoken community members in wealthy neighbourhoods across the city have the gall to speak out against specific manifestations of the very policies they so ardently promote,” wrote Ginny Roth, national practice lead for government relations at Crestview Strategy, in a National Post op-ed. “Toronto didn’t invent NIMBYism but it sure isn’t leading the way towards a more elevated approach to community building.”

Roth says, “At its heart is an illogical amorality – a belief that though I acknowledge that this thing (subway line, low-income housing, homeless shelter, natural gas plant) should exist (I might even demand it of my politicians!), I just don’t think it should exist near me.”

A recent report for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) titled Understanding Social Inclusion and NIMBYism in Providing Affordable Housing confirms that most people support the construction of social housing projects but are less willing to support the project if it’s in their own neighbourhood. It also says opposition is “more intensive when projects are to provide social housing in particular.”

The report says evidence from other studies show that “opponents of social housing are typically wealthy, educated and homeowners seeking to defend property investments.”

The main reasons cited for the opposition are usually that the project will decrease the value of properties, and that it will increase crime, traffic and noise in the communities. Reduced access to green space and services are other common complaints.

“NIMBY opposition may result in delays, increase costs to developers and the development project, force unanticipated changes to the project and ultimately undermine equitable (housing) siting decisions,” says the CMHC report. “There is some evidence that the not-for-profit sector is particularly vulnerable to delays and costs as they tend to have fewer resources than the for-profit sector.”

The report says “research shows that although the perception of potentially increased criminal activity is indeed a deterrent to accepting subsidized housing, there is little evidence to show that its development will lead to increased crime. This is particularly true of housing built in areas that do not experience ‘concentrated poverty’ or high levels of crime.”

For the East York project, the city used a study by the Wellesley Institute that interviewed residents, staff and neighbours of two supportive housing facilities in Toronto. The study found no evidence that the projects affected either property values or crime rates – and in fact, property values have gone up and crime rates are down, the study says.

But at a town hall meeting held virtually for the East York project, a vocal opponent disparaged the study as slanted toward receiving answers the developers wanted to hear. Other people on the call also were skeptical that a similar study, which assured that parking in the area would be adequate, was telling the truth.

So how can developers, and particularly social housing developers, convince local homeowners to support – or at least tolerate – a project in their community?

Early communication about the project is important for neighbourhood buy-in, says the report. Many of the East York residents say they didn’t know anything about the proposed supportive housing project until signs about it were posted on the site. 

“Proactive relationship building should include outreach with residents and local businesses. Ensuring that management teams are available, in person, to hear residents’ and businesses’ concerns is important,” says the report.

Collaborations and partnerships with service providers are also important to gain trust. Developers should also use evidence-based approaches in their presentations, “including data from previous projects to show the benefits and actual impacts on their surroundings, including the limited or positive impacts on surrounding property values,” says the report. 

The project should also be aligned with a city’s plan to combat housing issues and encourage social inclusion, it says.

A case study from the Ottawa area outlines how a 55-unit project in Clarington was approved. The Oaks is owned and operated by Shepherds of Good Hope. It has 30 units reserved for clients of the Managed Alcohol Program, 15 for aging at home residents and 10 for individuals living with mental health issues.

The project was announced in a news release, which angered local residents. The Shepherds of Good Hope then worked with Carleton University to have a group of masters students go door-to-door in the community to ask about their concerns.

At a town hall meeting, the local police chief voiced support for the project. Volunteers who worked with the future residents of the building talked about the positive experience of working with them.

In the end, proactively building relationships within the neighbourhood and promoting the fact that the future residents wanted to live in a “quiet, gentle, safe environment” reduced the opposition to the project.

Back in East York, another town hall meeting is scheduled soon to discuss the supportive housing project. “This will be a housing site that will move forward,” Councillor Brad Bradford told Global News. “It’s going to be a rough couple of months for sure. I know people are angry and upset … but we have to build housing for folks in this city. We have to make it work.”

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair is editor of REM: Canada's Real Estate Magazine, a business publication for real estate agents and brokers. He has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 30 years. You can contact Jim at jim@remonline.com.

www.remonline.com/

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