The “Not In My Back Yard” Phenomenon, and its effect on Special Needs Housing

 November 29, 2013
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Over the last few years, the staff of M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC has invested a lot of time in researching and learning about special needs housing. Throughout this process, we have traveled to visit different independent living and housing programs, investigated housing models and options, and have spoken extensively to housing developers, operators of independent living programs, advocates for special needs housing, and parents of children with special needs. Throughout all of these discussions, we have noticed a common problem that has plagued developers of special needs housing projects – each and every one has referenced the NIMBY’s of the housing development process, or the “Not In My Back Yard”-ers.

The Not In My Backyard trend refers to individuals in a neighborhood or community who oppose zoning, property/housing development, etc. for reasons of self-preservation, or because they are inspired by the motivation to keep individuals or services that they feel will (whether rightly or wrongly) negatively affect their quality of life out of their neighborhood or community. Many examples of NIMBY-ism are related to zoning for waste disposal facilities, or other government service centers such as airports, drug clinics, etc. Other examples are related to low-income housing, or social service centers such as group homes, shelters for individuals with mental illness, or housing for individuals with special needs.

How can NIMBY-ism negatively affect Individuals with Special Needs?

The most obvious way in which NIMBYs can affect individuals with special needs is to successfully block the development of special needs housing in their community or neighborhood. According to a paper written by Michael B. Gerrar, titled The Victims of NIMBY, local opposition to housing development often focuses efforts on pressuring local governments to wield their “zoning and land use permits to exclude such units.” Gerarr goes on to write that many of these governments yield to such pressures; and as a result, they incorporate requirements of large land plots, restrictions on the ability to use the land and unreasonable requirements in regards to water and sewer line hookups – essentially, this pressure will result in as many roadblocks as it takes to ensure that the project is abandoned.

Aside from directly blocking special needs housing, NIMBY’s can affect individuals with special needs and their families in a number of less obvious, but still damaging ways. To begin, the NIMBY campaign that is often started as a result of a proposed special needs housing development can be damaging politically, mentally, and emotionally. The political campaign that the NIMBYs often wage can perpetuate negative stereotypes, and disseminate incorrect or misleading information with the purpose of scaring up support for their cause. This can be incredibly frustrating for parents and advocates of individuals with special needs. Not only is it painful to acknowledge that a group of individuals are actively trying to deny individuals with special needs the right to live in their community, but the ignorance and selfishness that motivates this behavior can possibly influence the opinions of other individuals who may not have spent time with individuals with disabilities, and can often nullify the positive outreach and educational efforts of advocates and special needs organizations. This “smear” campaign can also influence the decision making process of those who have a say in whether or not the development goes ahead.

As well, the emotional impact of NIMBY-ism can be devastating. Realizing that the hard work and planning that has lead to the development of your special needs housing project may have been for naught is incredibly frustrating and stressful; as well, acknowledging that the world cannot see for themselves the ways in which your child with special needs is incredible and is entitled to the same rights as everyone else, can be emotionally shattering.   It is important to remember to breathe and work through these emotions and setbacks in a positive way – if certain individuals cannot see for themselves the blessings that children and individuals with special needs bring into the lives of their friends and family – well, it is up to you to show them.

How Can We Combat NIMBY-ism?

As parents of children with special needs, our first reaction to a NIMBY is to strike out – it is hard not to react with anger towards an individual who is calling for a cruel rejection of our loved ones, based on selfishness and ignorance. How can we, as parents, not feel this way about a group of individuals who are denying our children the right to community housing, and the chance to build a fulfilling, well rounded life?

The key to combating this, however, is not to give into indignation and anger; rather it is to focus energy on positive actions such as building support, creating awareness, contacting the media, cultivating connections, learning about the regulations and rules that can affect the special needs development process, recruiting allies, and setting a positive example to the NIMBYs of the world.  It is also important to understand the objections that are raised, to agree on mutual priorities, and to negotiate and build understanding with those who oppose the development.

In a document written by CGA Strategies: Government and Community Affairs, CGA President Frank Noto tackles this issue head-on. According to Noto, the key to successfully combating NIMBY opposition is to identify the motive for the opposition, and build a strategy based on that motivation: “All NIMBY opposition is not alike,” writes Noto, “and the wrong type of outreach response can create more problems than it solves. Identifying the cause of such opposition is crucial in shaping a proper response to potential opponents. A good offense can also be key to a good defense. Equally as important as minimizing opponents is identifying, recruiting, and mobilizing supporters. This will influence the news media, the general public and decision-makers, while also helping to reduce opposition.”

Need More Information?

If you would like more information about housing for individuals with special needs, NIMBY-ism, or grass roots special needs housing development in your area please do not hesitate to contact us! We are experts in the field of special needs housing, and can counsel you as to the next step in your housing search. As well, you may wish to check out our Independent Living Program and Housing Project database – this online housing resource contains information on independent living programs and housing options from across the United States, in addition to a plethora of other, housing related information.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by our blog today – we hope our brief discussion of NIMBY-ism has been enlightening; if you haven’t encountered it already hopefully we have educated you so that you can be prepared in the event that you do. If you are currently dealing with NIMBYs, well, we hope that we have provided you with some coping strategies that will allow you to successfully follow through with your development.

See you next week!

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