By Judi Moseley – Co-Chair
NIMBY is an acronym that stands for Not In My Backyard. It is a response that we see frequently when affordable housing proposals are made to Plan Commission or City Councils. Single Family homeowners often object to multifamily housing being brought to their neighborhoods because they believe it will change the nature of their neighborhood. They fear it may bring more traffic, more noise and more congestion.
More disturbing is the NIMBY response we hear when affordable housing is proposed. The objection in this case is often based on misconceptions about “those people.” The unspoken belief is that somehow working people who fall under a certain income standard are less desirable in our neighborhoods. That the single mom who supports her three children by working as a store clerk is less deserving of safe affordable housing than the single mom who supports her three children by working as a medical professional is a belief that we find abhorrent.
The Affordable Housing Task Force objects to this characterization and strenuously counter whenever we confront it. Every family should live in safe, quality housing that they can afford by doing honest work. Sometimes our community leaders vote on proposals that will allow more families to access better housing at a more affordable price–proposals like building twinhomes in the midst of single family neighborhoods. Or building large residential neighborhoods that consist of single family homes, senior condos, 8-plexes and 16-plexes integrated together in a subdivision.
This is a shift for our community leaders. For the past 75 years, single family homes on spacious lots have been the American Dream, and it is what our communities promoted more than any other type of housing. But look where that has led us—to the largest housing shortage in our nation’s history. Stagnant wages have made the problem even worse, as so many families now pay 40 0r 50% of their income for housing. That means they have nothing left to put aside to purchase a home or a car or a better education for their children.
The City of Minneapolis has made the groundbreaking move to eliminate single family zoning throughout the city. They did it after having years of conversations with neighborhood groups and advocacy groups and employers and nonprofits. Those conversations were complicated and sometimes messy, but they helped the city create a 10 year plan to promote affordable housing and create a community that upheld the priorities of its residents. They made other incremental changes, like eliminating parking restrictions within commuting corridors, and allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (sometimes called “granny flats”) in single family neighborhoods. And many times, city officials were met with NIMBY responses.
Our communities must respond to an ever changing world. COVID has placed even more stress on our housing problems. Many families are facing eviction when the moratoriums are lifted. Others are trying to shelter in place, work from home, and teach school at home in housing that was inadequate before all our lives changed.
You will undoubtedly see changes in our neighborhoods and communities over the coming years. Some changes you will welcome and some you will dislike. But please take the time to inform yourself about the issues and the consequences of inaction. Ask questions and try to keep an open mind about proposed changes. Often our NIMBY responses are merely fear of change getting in our way.
There is a housing advocacy group in Minneapolis called YIMBY—Neighbors for More Neighbors. Yes In My Back Yard. Their Facebook page says they advocate for abundant housing. https://www.facebook.com/NeighborsForMoreNeighbors/ The JONAH Affordable Housing Task Force says “Yes!” to YIMBY.