NIMBYism and Fairness

Fairness in the discussion of low-income housing.


As someone who hopes to become a developer when I graduate, I constantly try to pay attention to what’s going on in my local real estate market, and one of the things that I have noticed more often as of late, is a growing sense of NIMBYism when it comes to low-income and/or high-density-affordable housing. This rather widely held perspective has shown itself more openly as of late with increased migration into the city and increased development.

Often times, the people guilty of NIMBYism espouse the belief that their neighborhoods characteristics should be preserved in the face of new (likely unpleasant) developments, and the only way to do that is to refuse any development that would achieve any level of density greater than that which already exists there. With that being said, they often still support the idea of these developments, just so long as they are situated elsewhere. This mindset also often precludes attempts to develop lower-income housing alternatives in neighborhoods that might find this socio-economic disruption unpalatable. This in turn limits the number of people that can appreciate and enjoy the characteristics of the amazing neighborhoods that make up Seattle, to only those who can afford extremely high housing prices.

This, I feel, is something akin to social red lining, in which groups of people of a certain socio-economic level are choosing to “vote-down” the ability of those in lower socio-economic levels to live in the same neighborhoods, school districts and communities as they do. In the first section of their book, Akerloff and Shiller examined the concept of fairness within economics, and discussed the ways in which people attempt to find fairness amongst their economic incentive for self-interest. I understood this to relate all too well to this topic.

I would argue that most, if not all, of the people that could be accused of NIMBYism are regularly engaged in a debate of fairness in economics, as they understand and often times agree that higher density and lower income housing is not only a good thing, but a necessary and vital thing, yet they still argue against its location near them, their lives and their primary financial asset (their home). In this context, it feels as though “fairness” can often times lose out to “economic incentive” on the individual level when ones home and personal feeling of comfort are perceived to possibly be on the line.

With the goal of decreasing the effectiveness of NIMBYism, I would argue on the behalf of programs aimed at incentivizing developers to increase the amount of residential density and low income housing in close-in neighborhoods with high quality schools, relative ease of access and transportation, higher levels of safety and a higher perceived level of attractiveness. I would also argue against giving equal consideration to all neighborhood opinions on new developments, especially when those opinions border on espousing class-distinction, xenophobia and the general fear of that which is different and new.


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