In many cities the term NIMBY (not in my back yard) is often lobbed at those opposing changes in their neighborhood. The term is often perceived as an insult but this wasn’t always the case.

People don’t want anything near them, especially if it might help someone else – George Carlin

There is actually a long history of NIMBYs working to prevent hazardous waste and other environmental dangers (love canal). For this reason, it can be misleading to describe someone opposing housing as a NIMBY when the term could refer to people protecting your health.

The term NIMBY also implies that the individuals and groups are neighborhood activists opposing powerful outside interests. Implying this narrative is misleading. When people put a limit on the amount of housing in their neighborhood they are consequently limiting who can live in their neighborhood. Opponents to housing lob insults at developers or elite city administrators, while those that can’t afford housing feel the consequences.

In the specific case of people opposing housing we need to be more precise than the term NIMBY. Instead we should refer to these groups as the anti-housing crowd. The anti-housing crowd has many rationalizations for opposing housing. For example, more residents will make it harder to find free parking, directly in front of their house. Searching for parking is awful and we can all empathize with this concern. Unfortunately, this opposition is also saying their abundant curbside parking is more important than someone else’s housing. “Abundant curbside parking” can be replaced in that sentence with a number of other concerns. Unobstructed views, neighborhood character and many other things are often mentioned. To protect these very real and understandable concerns, the anti-housing crowd would like to limit the number of people that can live in their neighborhood.

If residents or groups don’t want to be lumped into the anti-housing crowd, they will need to propose alternative solutions to provide enough housing in the city. It is insufficient to only say “no.” Unfortunately, it’s much easier to be against policies than for policies. When a group only opposes policies it doesn’t help find solutions and it never presents ideas for criticism to the public.

Many of the developments being built are the direct result of the city attempting to solve a housing cost problem. These are real attempts at a solution. For those that don’t like the solution, please provide a detailed plan that you are willing to defend at community meetings. Until that plan is produced, I think it is appropriate to describe these groups as the anti-housing crowd.

Article Author
Owen Pickford holding a beer, wearing a Sounders shirt in front of a bridge, river and large towers in Tokyo.
Owen Pickford

Owen is a solutions engineer for a software company. He has an amateur interest in urban policy, focusing on housing. His primary mode is a bicycle but isn't ashamed of riding down the hill and taking the bus back up. Feel free to tweet at him: @pickovven.