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NIMBY — new affordable housing projects require undertaking collaborative efforts between developers, neighbours and governments
Apr 29, 2011
The following are some points gleaned from Marni Cappe on her presentation earlier this year in Winnipeg about NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard),a topic that is also covered in the WinnipegREALTORS® March 2011 discussion paper on Manitoba’s rental housing shortage. 
Cappe is the author of Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY. She is also the current president of the Canadian Institute of Planners and serves on the board of directors of the Canadian Urban Institute. As a professional planner for over 30 years, Cappe specializes in local governance and urban policy.
In her municipal guidebook, Cappe talks about how achieving affordable housing or new infill development can only happen through a collaborative process. She said you must engage the neighbourhood where the new development is under consideration, and have the developer work with residents to ensure the best possible proposal is put forward.
Cappe said we can all work towards win-win solutions to accommodating more growth without NIMBY defeating our good-intentioned efforts.
One thing the public needs to understand is that legislative frameworks and planning acts in Canada define municipal powers related to land use, and they do not support “people zoning.” Moreover, Canada is a signatory to the international convention on the right to adequate housing which is tied to the principle of non-discrimination. In Ontario, the Human Rights Commission has made it very clear it is explicitly against NIMBY-ism where it interferes with a person’s right to housing.
“People should not have to ask permission from anyone, including prospective neighbours, before moving in just because of stereotypes relating to grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Concerns about affordable housing projects should be legitimately anchored in planning issues rather than stereotypical assumptions about the people who will be housed,” according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, July 2008.
As a city that will be the home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, it will become more obvious that it is unacceptable to discriminate against people based on their ethnicity, religion, skin colour, physical/mental abilities or even social class, be it income- related or property type-based (e.g., renters).
Another NIMBY aspect Cappe covered was the fear of change. Some residents are uncomfortable with change of any sort, let alone new development in their area. What they forget is that even slower growth cities such as Winnipeg have changed fairly dramatically over time. 
She used two slides showing the same street profile on Main Street — one from 1887 and one from the 1950s — which showed the scale and height of development was substantial over that period of time. In this context, why would you not expect similar development to now occur, as we plan to accommodate another 180,000 new residents over the next 20 years. The significant increase in population equals a demand for 83,000 new dwelling units. 
To expect existing neighbourhoods to be frozen in time, while new or future developments on the periphery of the city take up all the new demand, is totally unrealistic from a capacity and infrastructure cost point of view. More intensification of existing infrastructure will be required, especially along routes designated as major public transit corridors where less reliance on cars is possible.
Cappe said her guidebook contains 32 strategies/techniques and seven case studies to showcase recent municipal NIMBY experiences. No one strategy works, but it’s more a mix of tools and techniques applied to a particular development and community situation, she added. 
Her five main themes are legislative frameworks (e.g. municipal legislation, planning acts), planning tools (e.g. municipal plans and zoning by-laws), community engagement/communication, educational tools, and monitoring and implementation.
Under legislative frameworks, Cappe emphasized municipal officials and politicians need to take a leadership role in upholding and stating the importance of  the legal basis for housing in compliance with human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination. She said officials should insist on respectful comments at public meetings — zero tolerance for discriminatory remarks. The City of Toronto has a zero-tolerance policy.
The Our Winnipeg Complete Communities Direction Strategy outlines future areas of more intensified development, and planning tools offer municipalities the ability to set out comprehensive and long-range plans to establish future growth patterns and development. Zoning bylaws and more detailed site plans become enablers, allowing new development to proceed. Developers that are attune to building sound developments, in keeping with the city’s overall planning direction and guidelines, will have a much better chance of overcoming NIMBY sentiment and opposition.
Integration of land use and infrastructure planning (e.g. rapid transit) is important to building a case for higher density since it addresses traffic issues. In addition, well-thought-out design guidelines centred around infill and intensification policies show it can be done in a manner that will not detract from the character and form of an existing neighbourhood.
A successful community engagement process requires good listening skills to ensure residents know at the outset what is being planned for their neighbourhood. A good communications strategy is likely the first positive step to building and gaining community acceptance. The communications process should be open, early, frequent, clear and accurate, and take advantage of media to educate the public on what is happening. The engagement process always must come back to the city’s overall plan and how one development at a time under the microscope fits in the long-term picture. How does it link in to the municipality’s vision and other plans?
The proponents of a development should be prepared  to bring in local experts to address any concerns residents may have with the impacts of a new development. 
Will property values drop? Not likely, based on all the research and studies done in Ontario and British Columbia. 
What if the new residents won’t fit in! First, no one has to ask for permission to live in a neighbourhood. If it is to do with affordable housing, new buyers tend to be renters in the same part of the city since their children go to the same schools.
As for educational tools, it needs to be a two-way street. With so much opportunity for this to happen with websites, blogs, etc., there is no reason not to pursue this avenue to provide access to as much of the information that is available. Generally, it is preferable to start with a broader approach illustrating the importance of the local community growth and housing challenges and then get into the site-specific proposal.
Simple fact sheets are recommended for the community meetings and the media. More educational materials can be developed through working with the developers and housing advocates. Engaging architects and designers to help create visuals can also be very helpful as many people want to visualize what is going to happen. New similar project already on the ground can be shown and site visits encouraged.
The city of Ottawa has actually developed a planning primer course for residents. Citizens learn about how planning works. The half-day courses describe the legislative framework and policy basis upon which land use decisions are made. They get into more specialized areas, such as transit planning and urban design. It is reported that there are waiting lists for residents to participate in these free offerings.
Finally, you need to implement and monitor a development that has received approval. This speaks to credibility on the promises made throughout the development process. For example, have any of the community worries been borne out? How are the new residents fitting in and is traffic more problematic? In proving a developer has delivered on what was promised, the development becomes a good resource, or case study, for future developments in the city. Good data can be derived from it, including tracking house prices before and after the project.
Cappe definitely left her mark on Winnipeg by speaking to a wide range of Winnipeggers over the two days she was here. She even participated in the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Annual Forum about building complete communities. It included a NIMBY discussion panel with Sandy Hopkins of Habitat for Humanity, Ken Cassin of Ten Ten Sinclair, Claude Davis of WinnipegREALTORS® and Michelle Holland of Scatliff Miller Murray Landscape Architects & Planners. They all shared their own experiences and approaches with NIMBY in Winnipeg. Jino Distasio of the University of Winnipeg moderated this session.
They raised a number of the points brought up in this column. With more development on the horizon due to the growth projections for Winnipeg, effectively dealing with NIMBY will be crucial for projects to go forward and meet the current and future demand for housing.