Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Addressing community opposition to affordable housing

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference 

Our new report, “Building Support for Affordable Housing: Perspectives from the Field,” offers valuable tips for addressing community opposition to affordable housing development from veteran developer and regional housing program manager Arthur Sullivan. We spoke with Sullivan during a round-table discussion on community opposition (?)at our Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Seattle earlier this year and were impressed by his insights on how to confront community resistance in productive, effective ways. His ideas made sense in a very intuitive way, and it occurred to us that they could be useful to other affordable housing developers and advocates who were not in attendance at the Seattle convening.

In speaking with Sullivan for this report, I was struck by his common-sense solutions (e.g., listen to your opposition, and involve them in the planning process, for starters) and how much sense they made when I considered them. I think that often when confronted with community opposition to affordable housing development, our initial reaction is to go into “battle mode,” which can yield mixed results. Maybe the project gets completed, but we may never have the support of neighboring community members. Sullivan’s proven tactics offer an alternative way of negotiating possible objections, forging a way to work with community members instead of against them and thus creating further support for the project.

Sullivan shared tactics that have proven effective in his experience in helping developers and advocates to navigate the sometimes contentious process of gaining community support. One key point Sullivan addressed is the necessity of involving community members very early in the planning process.  Rather than going to the community after the plan has been fully developed, Sullivan pointed out that consulting with community members before project plans are solidified enables community members to feel valued and included and also allows the developer to incorporate community members’ ideas, where appropriate. Enlisting community engagement early in the process also ensures that any opposition presented by community members can be aired and addressed at the small-group level instead of in a larger public forum before local decision makers, who are unlikely to go against their constituents’ preferences.

This report discusses seven key strategies altogether and provides what we hope will be valuable guidelines for developers of and advocates for affordable housing in addressing community opposition to proposed projects.

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