How to Build Community Support for Your Tax Credit Site
Many low-income housing projects have had to deal with community opposition to their site—also known as NIMBYism (“not in my backyard”). It has been a longtime battle for affordable housing proponents, but the current economic crisis may provide the needed leverage for tax credit sites to change lingering stereotypes about affordable housing. Why now? The length and severity of the recession has brought about a higher level of acceptance among local communities for low-income and affordable housing.
“There is a broader understanding of how precarious life can be, and how easily people can find themselves or a family member in need of access to affordable housing options,” says Linda Couch, vice president of policy for the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “I think that there is a greater understanding and empathy for people who need affordable housing.”
Owners and managers of existing tax credit sites are in a solid position to dispel the negative image of low-income housing and help to overcome the misconceptions that lead to opposition for new sites. The following ideas can help you to build ongoing community support for your project.
Debunk the Myths with Hard, Cold Facts
If your site has been around for a few years, you can draw on facts and examples to build a strong case to demonstrate the value that the site offers to the community, says Couch. According to the Campaign for Affordable Housing (www.tcah.org), the most common myths surrounding affordable housing are:
Affordable housing is ugly.
Affordable housing produces more traffic.
Affordable housing increases crime.
Affordable housing overburdens schools and infrastructure.
Affordable housing lowers property values.
Do your homework and collect the statistics to dispel each myth. For instance, to debunk “affordable housing lowers property values,” you can go back a few years to trend home values in the immediate vicinity and show that they have not been negatively affected. Do the same with neighborhood crime statistics and each of the other myths.
Share Your Demographics
A common misperception about low-income housing is that the residents don't pay rent and they don't work. Couch recommends site managers crunch the numbers and put together some demographic information to share about the site's residents, such as the types of jobs the site's residents hold and their education. Show how the residents of affordable housing are respected, contributing members of society and include teachers, police officers, nurses, administrative assistants, and civil servants.
Open Your Doors to Demystify the Site
One way to bring a great deal of attention to your site is to invite an elected official to visit for a site tour. You can host a town hall meeting in which people from the local community can come into the site and participate in a QandA forum with their elected official, Couch says.
“Some communities also have linked into their boards of election to become the neighborhood polling place,” she says. “It's another great way to get people into the property, and to show it off. At the same time, you can break down any reluctance that people have to checking it out.”
Offering facilities to local area agencies that lack the space is another way to get the community into the site. For instance, local agencies on aging can use community rooms to provide services for the elderly who live outside the site, as well as those who live within the property.
Whom Should You Approach?
When planning your community outreach activities, target the individuals and groups that can heighten public awareness of your goals and help to educate the community. Couch suggests starting with the mayor, city council members, and city administrators. You can use our Model Letter: Invite Elected Officials to Visit Your Site, as a template for contacting elected officials.
Also, reach out to the chamber of commerce and local employers. Lack of affordable housing can sometimes be an impediment for an employee to keep a job. Chambers of commerce are tapped into the companies that are looking for workers, she says.
Social service agencies, community action agencies, and United Way offices should also be on your outreach list. Try to consider other groups that might benefit from the space on your site's grounds—for instance, Couch suggests partnering with a garden club to host a youth garden on your site. “Think about ways to use the physical space to link into the community organizations that might need a venue,” she says.
Prep Your Staff
To be effective, your message needs to be consistent. Make sure that every member of your staff is well aware of the message you want to communicate about your site.
“Everyone should be aware of the site's demographics so each staff member can accurately depict and tell the story about why the site came to be and who lives there,” says Couch. For instance, your staff should know the average amount of rent that residents in your tax credit units pay, which surrounding communities they work in, and their job titles.
“Show how these people are really the backbone of most of our communities,” she says. “Have a common set of demographic information points to talk about, but don't stop there. We also have to express how this site or these sets of projects aren't filling the current need for low-income housing. We have waiting lists, and we need more types of properties like this one in our community. Try to tell the positive stories.”
Get Residents Involved
Speaking of positive stories, this is where you can get your residents involved. After all, your residents are your best advocates for the site.
“Residents might belong to civic associations or clubs or participate in local government unbeknownst to the site management,” Couch says. What are some ways in which residents can participate? They can act as a tour guide for open houses, or they might be willing to host their group's meeting in the site's community space. They might be interested in showing off their apartment during a tour or being the one to invite elected officials to the site.
“Engage your residents. They can be ambassadors to the community,” she says.
What Is NIMBY?
NIMBY is an acronym for “not in my backyard.” NIMBY is most simply defined as an effort to stop the establishment of certain types of housing or service facilities within or adjacent to a specific community. It develops when a community group says it supports a project as long as it is built somewhere other than in its own neighborhood. Typically, NIMBY opposition may sound like this:
“Our community should support affordable housing. Affordable housing serves many important human and community needs. Affordable housing in our community could be located in many places but NOT HERE!”
The reasons most typically cited are that there is enough “affordable housing” in this area so it needs to go somewhere else, or it doesn't fit in with the upper income nature of the community, will bring down property values, and so should go somewhere else.
NIMBYism involves more than just an attitude, however. It is a collective protest in response to perceived threats about the social character or the potential impact on property values of a proposed affordable housing development.
Source: Overcoming the Challenges of NIMBYism, North Carolina Housing Coalition; www.nchousing.org.
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