What is NIMBY-ism and How Can it Violate Fair Housing Laws?

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) activism is typically characterized by more affluent, white residents who oppose new development of some kind in their area. When the new development in question is mixed-income or affordable housing, this opposition can run afoul of the Fair Housing Act. Across Louisiana, LaFHAC has documented multiple instances of city and parish councils acquiescing to small groups of mostly white homeowners intent on denying approval to affordable housing developments. In some cases these denials take the shape of moratoriums on new apartment buildings that are conveniently introduced after a developer expresses interest in building apartments with some affordable units. In other cases, local councils threaten to deny zoning changes or variances for a specific development. Often, opponents and/or elected officials use racially coded language that suggests racism is the motivating factor for the denial.

Even if the policy appears neutral on its face, denying affordable housing, which disproportionately serves Black renters, may have a disparate impact on African Americans. Refusing to permit affordable housing in a majority-white community could also be found to perpetuate segregation. These are both ways that NIMBY opposition to affordable housing could violate the Fair Housing Act. For more information about how NIMBY-ism operates and what elected officials should do to combat it, check out our report, Delayed Until Downsized or Denied: Neighborhood Associations Lead the Charge Against Affordable Housing and Perpetuate Segregation in New Orleans, released October 7, 2021.

Policy Recommendations to Combat NIMBY-ism

The following recommendations were developed for New Orleans as part of the Delayed Until Downsized or Denied report, but can be adapted for any jurisdiction. For more information, see the full report.

1) Local Elected Officials Must Defend Affordable Housing Against NIMBY Opposition. Nearly everyone wants to see their city or parish remain affordable. Local elected officials should make that possible by standing up for new affordable developments.

2) Incentivize Equitable Representation on Neighborhood Association Boards. Neighborhood associations often skew whiter, more affluent, and more homeowner than the areas they represent, yet local officials still defer to them on land use decisions. Jurisdictions should require neighborhood associations who speak before their local councils and boards to disclose their board demographics.

3) Develop an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. Most community engagement processes do not include anyone who might represent the future residents of a proposed affordable housing development. Local jurisdictions should recruit, train, and pay residents who live in subsidized housing or who are on a waitlist to participate in public engagement and land use processes related to affordable developments.

4. Build an Equitable Community Engagement Infrastructure. Local jurisdictions should look to models used in Birmingham, Atlanta, or Durham to set up formalized systems of resident engagement that are outlined by ordinance, supported by City funding, and specifically designed for equity.

5. Incentivize Affordable Housing in the Local Zoning Code. Local elected officials should pass policies like inclusionary zoning to combine increased density and flexibility in their zoning code with specific requirements for affordability. These policies will begin to erode our legacy of segregated living patterns.

6. Invest in Developing Affordable Housing on Public Land in High Opportunity Areas. Local elected officials should commit to pairing affordable housing funding with publicly owned land in neighborhoods close to jobs, good schools, and other amenities in order to ensure high opportunity areas are open to all.