Fighting NIMBYism: Tools and success stories

This past April, the 2022 CHRA National Congress featured an amazing lineup of sessions that delved into some of the biggest issues facing Canada’s housing and homelessness sector. Speakers Stéphan Corriveau, Executive Director of the Community Housing Transformation Centre, Simone Lilly, Manager, Community Investment at End Homelessness St. John’s, and Rebecca Siggner, Manager, Research at BC Housing joined us to discuss the complicated issue of NIMBYism and resources to help non-market housing providers and other stakeholders respond to some of the most common questions raised by neighbours and other community members. Read on to learn more.


Zen and the Art of Overcoming NIMBYism

Stéphan Corriveau, Executive Director, Community Housing Transformation Centre

The Community Housing Transformation Centre is a pan-Canadian non-profit organization that works with housing organizations across the country to drive transformation, sustainability, and growth in community housing. NIMBY (not in my backyard) opposition to affordable housing projects from individuals and communities is one of the main challenges faced by community housing providers when it comes to new developments.

Getting a community on board with an affordable housing development can be tricky, but community members can be an asset to wider acceptance. To counter NIMBYism, it’s important to map the ecosystem of the community, identify your allies within the community, and understand both your allies and opponents – their concerns and motivations. Once you’ve identified your allies, you can start to rally their support and ask them to help you increase allies and act as advocates. You’ll also want to reach out to local politicians and media, supplying them with positive news about the project and directing them to experts and allies for feedback.

Build your case for the development; think of the positive outcomes for the tenants and wider community and point to successful past projects; be sure to have the data and testimonials to back it up. Go forward in your community engagement efforts with empathy, transparency, initiative, and leadership and be prepared to engage with experts and respond with solid facts as to why your development is right for the community. Above all, you must keep control of the narrative. Respond to fear-mongering opposition with facts and stick to your key messages.


NIMBY Realities and Tools from St. John’s

Simone Lilly, Manager, Community Investment, End Homelessness St. John’s

St. John’s Newfoundland, with a relatively small community of under 110,000, has 1 in 4 households experiencing challenges related to housing affordability. A high rate of home ownership vs. rentals, a high rate of outside ownership, a long wait list for social housing, and a full shelter system means that housing needs are not being met for the most vulnerable populations.

St. John’s is experiencing an urgent need for new stock that is affordable, diverse and includes models appropriate for vulnerable populations. NIMBYism is fairly prevalent in St. John’s, and it impedes the much-needed growth of housing supply. Typical concerns focus on the stigma around affordable housing developments: concerns about decreasing property values, an increase in crime, and the changing character of the neighbourhood. Affordable housing organizations have had some success in combatting these notions with door knocking campaigns, making themselves available to answer questions from the community, reserving a spot on the board of directors for a community member, working to ensure the project blends into the neighbourhood, and ensuring strong engagement throughout the project phases.

A NIMBY toolkit was developed in a partnership between the Canadian Home Builders’ Association Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Newfoundland Housing and Homelessness Network, the City of St. John’s and the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness. This toolkit pulls together best practices originating from other jurisdictions in Canada, as well as specific, recent experiences from Newfoundland and Labrador. A similar multi-stakeholder partnership also produced a social media campaign that aimed to debunk the common myths about affordable housing that fuel NIMBYism and to encourage individuals to reflect on their own perceptions and beliefs.


Community Benefits of Supportive Housing Tool

Rebecca Siggner, Manager, Research at BC Housing

Oftentimes, proposed supportive housing developments are met with questions from those who are concerned about how the project will affect the community. The effectiveness of supportive housing in reducing homelessness is backed up by research, but there is evidence to show supportive housing can have positive benefits on the wider community as well. BC Housing’s Research Centre has created the Community Benefits of Supportive Housing tool that addresses some of the most common community concerns around supportive housing development and demonstrate the community benefits of supportive housing.

Features of the tool include:

  • easy-to-read infographics and a question-and-answer format that distil long research studies about supportive housing into accessible summaries and messaging that is suitable for a variety of audiences and venues (such as social media, websites, presentations, or handouts)
  • a mix of sources, including reports from government, research organizations, and academia
  • cited research with links provided, so readers can check the methodology and other details of the research for themselves
  • references to more than one data source, where possible, validating the research and points presented

While the tool focuses on BC-specific research, this tool could be replicated in other jurisdictions using local research.

The tool covers possible questions from communities including:

  • Will supportive housing affect nearby property values?
  • Is it costly for taxpayers?
  • Will it change my neighbourhood?
  • Will it have an impact on nearby schools?
  • Why does supportive housing allow residents to use addictive substances?
  • How will it contribute to my neighbourhood’s local economy?

Finding ways to address NIMBYism is an ongoing concern for providers of affordable housing. Much work has been done to help providers find ways to address the community concerns with facts, personal connections, and community engagement. We recommend you click on the resource links throughout this piece to learn more.


This post was written in collaboration with session speakers from the Community Housing Transformation Centre, End Homelessness St. John’s, and BC Housing.