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Not In My Backyard: The Struggle for Growing Communities and Affordable Housing

Jan 13, 2023 | Land Use, Zoning

If you’ve worked within land development, you’ve probably heard the expression, “Not In My Backyard.” We hear it all the time when people are asked to accept new development in their community. The proposal is usually related to apartments, condominiums, or some other type of dense development, and often involves zoning restrictions that limit building any type of housing, except detached single-family homes.

But change is inevitable, and communities must be open to new development to make way for affordable housing and supportive neighborhood services that meet the needs of growing communities.

The housing crisis is one of the most pressing issues facing our country today. Skyrocketing rents and home prices have left many people unable to afford to live in auspicious neighborhoods or cities. This has resulted in an increase in homelessness across the nation, as well as an increase in crime rates due to lack of affordable housing options for those who cannot afford market rate rents or mortgages on their own properties.

Zoning restrictions are often blamed for contributing to this crisis because they prevent developers from building more residential units closer together where demand is highest (usually downtown areas). However, there are ways around these restrictions, and many communities have been able to successfully build new apartment complexes without sacrificing their quality of life. In fact, many argue that new apartment complexes make life pleasing for residents in these areas by bringing in more people with disposable income who can spend it locally.

Understandably, community members want a voice in the changes happening in their backyard. The YIMBY movement (Yes In My Backyard) refers to a positive stance toward new real estate and construction development from a pro-growth perspective.  People who identify as YIMBY agree that cities should have housing opportunities that are affordable and accessible for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of those people are ones we considered “essential workers” during the pandemic, including teachers, healthcare workers, police officers, and grocery clerks.

To create a plan, a community must engage diverse stakeholders to identify specific housing challenges. People with low incomes, BIPOC, people with disabilities and others whose housing needs are not being met are integral to the planning process. If communities are truly involved, then municipal planners truly ensure each community has a mix of housing types and affordability.

Additionally, as municipalities grow, additional development, such as grocery stores, hospitals, and schools, is needed to support the influx of people. You don’t want to drive an hour away for an oil change! When it comes to changes happening in your community, the best thing you can do is get involved in the process so you can have a voice.  

Below are five ways that community members can be part of the solution when creating well-rounded communities:

  1. Focus on Equity and Inclusion – Research shows that diverse communities have a positive correlation to economic growth. Diverse and inclusive communities tend to be characterized by a higher level of innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic competitiveness, which in turn encourages productivity and economic growth.
  2. Consider ALL the Data – People often make assumptions about what change will bring without the data to back it up. If you have concerns, ask developers to provide data so you can be informed about how the changes will affect you. For example, if you are concerned about additional traffic, request a traffic analysis or study.
  3. Be Advocates for your Community – Attend community meetings in the earliest stages of future development. This is the prime time to provide ideas and input about what you want to see in your community.
  4. Foster Innovation – Be open to developing new ideas that meet multiple needs. For example, cities may ask homeowners to provide a communal pool, but trends in an area may dictate that homeowners want their own pool. Involving future potential homeowners/citizens early in the process champions that sense of community cities strive for.
  5. Understand How Change May Benefit the Community – While we would all enjoy a city full of only parks and restaurants, having a well-rounded city is crucial to its future success. Consider the everyday needs of the community members as well as what tax benefits will benefit the city as a whole. For example, multi-family complexes tend to get pushback. However, they often require background checks and have continuous maintenance on their property. There is more risk coming from your neighbors who can rent their homes to anyone or may not maintain their home to the standards you want for your neighborhood.

Development is inevitable, but with community outreach and involvement, perhaps the worst of what we fear can be avoided. Let’s do the work early on to design buildings and developments that are well-designed to sustain the communities we are so keen on growing and nurturing.