Affordable Housing Finance
Christine Serlin, Staff Writer
“INDUSTRY EXPERTS SHARE STRATEGIES FOR WORKING WITH NEIGHBORS, LOCAL OFFICIALS.
1. EDUCATE THE COMMUNITY
The key to overcoming NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) opposition is to educate people as to what affordable housing really is and what it is not, says Charles Lewis, senior vice president for Conifer Realty.
“When people hear the term ‘affordable housing,’ they tend to think of the worst-looking public housing project in the worst neighborhood in their town,” he says.
Conifer works to dispel those myths by explaining that affordable housing is rental housing affordable to a family of four earning $50,000 (or 60% of the area median income), who the residents are, and where they are from.
“We show that our residents will be people from the community. On the average, 70% of the residents of our developments already live within five miles of the development,” says Lewis. “The other 30%, by and large, have some sort of connection with the community. They work there, grew up there, or have family there.”
Conifer researches pay scales in the community to give examples about the people who will live there, such as a teacher with children, a health-care worker, or an administrative assistant.
2. ADDRESS LEGITIMATE CONCERNS
Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, says it’s important to address the opposition’s legitimate concerns, such as traffic or project design.
These legitimate, non-discriminatory concerns may lead the affordable housing developer to make adjustments to items such as the location of the entrance driveway or the design of the building to better fit in with the existing community.
“It is wise for the affordable housing developer to be able to report to the local elected body that they have worked with the neighbors and made every reasonable effort to respond to each concern,” says Ross, who is also an attorney. “Once all legitimate concerns are addressed, if opposition persists, it can be stated with certainty that the opposition is illegitimate and is therefore opposition that would be inappropriate, arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful for the local government to consider in making its land-use decision.”
3. HOLD OPEN HOUSES
Instead of community meetings, community open houses can be more effective, says Susan Friedland, executive director of Berkeley, Calif.–based Satellite Affordable Housing Associates.
“It gives the neighbors the opportunity to talk to the developers and architects one-on-one rather than in a big, unruly group meeting,” she says.
Friedland also encourages recruiting a smaller group of stakeholder advisers from these open houses to help shape the project.
“At best, this can turn opponents into champions. Even at the minimum, it brings a clear protocol and process for gathering community input,” she adds.
4. SHOWCASE PAST WORK
“Our best defense against NIMBYism is the work we have done in the past,” says Lewis, who leads Conifer’s development efforts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In addition to providing local officials with addresses of all its properties, the developer offers to give them tours and encourages them to reach out to other elected officials and law enforcement agencies in the towns and cities where its developments are located to understand their experiences with affordable housing.
5. EXPLAIN THE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
Friedland says it’s best to frame opponents’ concerns about who will be living in the building by proactively explaining how you will be a good neighbor and a responsible owner.
“Bring your property management staff into the community to explain your lease-up plan, your screening criteria, and your house rules and leases,” she adds.