My View: NIMBY Opposition to Affordable Housing a National Problem

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

When Davis residents are polled—as they were last spring—most of them recognize that the biggest issue facing the community is lack of affordability in housing.  Not only do more than 30 percent of those polled recognize it as the top issue facing the community, but more than 7 in 10 viewed in unsatisfactory terms.

And yet…  When push comes to shove, most of the time over the last two decades, Davis residents have opposed ballot initiatives that would have provided housing to the community—in many cases dozens or more of affordable housing units.

While Davis has stronger growth control measures than other communities and is likely more extreme, it turns out that the general view in Davis is not really an outlier.

By similar margins nationally, a recent survey found, as reported by FiveThirtyEight, “Americans support tackling housing insecurity, with 71 percent saying that it should be at least an important priority for Congress to pass legislation growing the housing supply and improving housing affordability. “

At the same time, “research also suggests that while Americans want more kinds of infrastructure to reduce homelessness, far fewer want those resources close to where they themselves live.”

There was a YouGov survey earlier this year.  They asked Americans about building about 40 kinds of developments.

The survey found, “85 percent of Americans supported building homeless shelters somewhere in the United States. However, when they were asked about building shelters in their own local area, support was over 20 percentage points lower. Support for low-income housing followed a similar pattern, with broad approval for building it someplace in the country (82 percent) but much less for building it locally (65 percent).”

And that’s in the abstract.  As we have seen, once there is a concrete proposal where near-neighbors have to weigh the costs, the impacts, the inconvenience, that number surely falls.

“At some level, people want to look good. And so when asked if they support low-income housing, people say yes. But when that housing gets closer and closer, then people start to think about tangible impacts,” said Shomon Shamsuddin, a professor of social policy at Tufts University. “It no longer becomes something they choose to support in theory. They perceive it as something forced on them by somebody else.”

There is of course a name for this—some might consider it pejorative—NIMBYism.

Projects that people understand that communities need, when they are close by, lead to concerns about crime, traffic, noise, nuisance, and hits to property values.

FiveThirtyEight notes, “Ultimately, pushback against affordable housing tends to draw on the assumption that such housing raises crime rates, because people tend to believe the poor are more likely to commit crimes, Shamsuddin said. “

These concerns are often fears of the unknown, but they turn out to not be true.

For instance, the article notes, “research suggests that an increase in temporary shelters, like tents, for unhoused people in a given area does not track with an increase in nearby property crime.”

We saw this in Davis with concerns that the Respite Center would lead to rising crime near the center.

FiveThirtyEight notes, “The aforementioned YouGov poll implies that Americans believe that the people who need affordable housing options are less desirable to have in one’s community. And this idea goes beyond individual citizens. For example, many local governments have focused on using police force and the law to deal with homelessness, destroying encampments of unhoused people.”

“Even the term ‘affordable housing’ comes out of an effort to make people more comfortable,” said Shamsuddin. “‘Low-income housing’ has certain [negative] connotations.”

While FiveThirtyEight focused heavily on crime concerns and affordable housing, there are also generalized near neighbor concerns with respect to housing in general.

In conversation with a councilmember earlier this week following the downtown discussion, they noted that infill projects are often opposed by residents and neighbors at the time they are proposed and then once they are built, they become part of the landscape and most don’t even notice them.

But getting over the initial observation has proven difficult and for most peripheral projects, with a vote requirement, often impossible.  That leads to a council forced to meet housing requirements with dense infill rather than peripheral subdivisions.

Such an approach avoids the need for a citizen vote, but does bring proposed developments head on into opposition from near neighbors and neighborhood groups.  Sometimes that has been enough to modify proposed projects and sometimes it means that the housing—along with affordable housing—does not get built.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 thoughts on “My View: NIMBY Opposition to Affordable Housing a National Problem”

  1. Ron Glick

    “Such an approach avoids the need for a citizen vote, but does bring proposed developments headon into opposition from near neighbors and neighborhood groups.  Sometimes that has been enough to modify proposed projects and sometimes it means that the housing – along with affordable housing – does not get built.”

    The predictable consequence of the policy you support. Its a pity.

  2. Don Shor

    For instance, the article notes, “research suggests that an increase in temporary shelters, like tents, for unhoused people in a given area does not track with an increase in nearby property crime.”

    We saw this in Davis with concerns that the Respite Center would lead to rising crime near the center.

    The article you linked does not bear out your assertion. The Respite Center has led to significant problems in the vicinity. I would suggest that you and other advocates stop denying the observations of surrounding property and business owners, and actually address the impacts that this and other respite centers actually have on their immediate vicinity.

    Cummings is surprised by Lanfear’s analysis showing no property crime increase, on average, associated with growing camps. She wonders whether that might be because people have become less likely to report the crimes. She says in her neighborhood — which has seen rapid growth in homeless camping — many people seem to have given up on calling the police.


  3. Ron Oertel

    The “housing shortage” people have taken-over much of the media and government, supported by the interests which are attempting to blame this on communities.

    The problem is that it’s a complete and total lie in the first place.

    If there was an actual housing shortage, builders would not be drastically pulling-back regarding housing starts. Housing inventory is also starting to rise, as it does with every downturn in the housing market. Does that sound like a “shortage” to anyone with brain?

    What we actually have is a capitalistic system which will never meet “demand” in regard to “affordable” housing.  The reason being that there’s apparently an increasing number of people who are falling behind (wage gap).

    It’s even occurring in “cheap” cities, which never say “no” to a developer.

  4. Don Shor

    Housing shortage info:

    Study of housing markets:

    Key measures.

                Affordable Shortage/Surplus Share

    “… measures the adequacy of housing supply levels by calculating the deficit between the cumulative number of households at a given income level and the number of housing units with an affordable housing expense at that level.”

    AMI = Area Median Income

    “we separately assess the housing needs of households with incomes at or below 60% of their metro’s Area Median Income (AMI). This is the threshold that many U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) affordable housing programs target.”

    Where does the Sacramento Metro region stand?

    “… if the Affordable (Shortage)|Surplus Share is positive, it means that there are more than enough affordable units in terms of inventory, and if it is negative, there are not enough affordable units of stock relative to the number of households earning 60% or less of AMI.”

    Rentals: Sacramento housing market is -10%.

    Plain English: there is a shortage of affordable housing in the rental market in the Sacramento area, leading to cost burdens for renters.

    More on cost burdens. It is a nationwide problem.

    NLIHC’s annual The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes report helps quantify the shortage of affordable and available homes for the lowest-income renters in the U.S. In the report released in March 2021, NLIHC found that there are only 37 affordable and available homes for every 100 extremely low-income renters. There is a shortage of nearly 7 million affordable and available homes for the 10.8 million extremely low-income renter households across the country. As a result, 70% of these households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities. This shortage is a long-term problem that requires significant government action. The market on its own will never produce an adequate supply of affordable, accessible homes for all renters.

    There are racial and ethnic disparities in who is likeliest to suffer because of this affordable housing shortage. …

    The shortage of affordable and available homes for the lowest-income renters is also a shortage of accessible homes. Renters with disabilities and older renters with impairments are likely to struggle to find adequate homes that meet their needs. ….

    When individuals and families are housing cost-burdened, they often have to cut back on basic necessities like food, transportation, and healthcare, and they often have no ability to save for emergencies. COVID-19 was just such an emergency. The vast majority of jobs lost in 2020 were held by the lowest-wage workers, who were less likely to be able to perform their jobs remotely. Black people, Native Americans, and Latinos are more likely than white people to experience homelessness or overcrowding, and they were at greater risk of contracting the virus. At the height of the pandemic, over 30% of the lowest-income renters said they had fallen behind on rent, and half of them anticipated an eviction if they did not receive help. Renters with mobility issues, difficulty seeing or hearing, or cognitive limitations were all more likely than renters in general to have fallen behind.

  5. Ron Oertel

    Just happened-across the following article.  Some people rigidly “whine” about what others should do for them, while others simply “do”.  Wanna guess as to which approach is successful?  Though even in Pennsylvania, the rent ain’t “cheap”. 

    The article notes that this small, millennial-aged team is doing this with other schools, as well.

    (Just in case you’re wondering what to do with the excess number of Davis schools, as soon as taxpayers get tired of throwing their money away.)

    Millennials bought an abandoned high school for $100,000 and turned it into a 31-unit apartment building—take a look inside

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