I was lucky enough to be the audience for last week’s edition of the excellent Urban Forum series at City Hall . Those in attendance heard Marni Capp, President of the Canadian Institute of Planners, present the latest resource produced by Affordability and Choice Today (ACT), a program delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
ACT campaigns to create public and affordable shelter in communities across Canada, and to that end they’ve produced a handbook to help planners and advocates make the case for new social housing developments.
Listing to Capp give an overview to the resource I was struck by how much the arguments against not only social housing, but any kind of residential intensification, end up sounding so familiar, in community after community.
Here are the main arguments against social housing, as distilled by planners whose job it is to listen and respond to community concerns:
- Our property values will go down
- Increasing density in our neighbourhood will cause too much traffic
- Increasing density in our neighbourhood will strain public services and infrastructure
- The new residents won’t fit in to our neighbourhood
- Affordable housing and/or higher density spoils the character of the neighbourhood
- Affordable or high-density housing in the neighbourhood will mean more crime
- Our neighbourhood already has its “fair share” of affordable housing
All these points are taken from ACT’s “Housing In My Backyard – A Municipal Guide For Responding To NIMBY”
Anyone in Ottawa following the debate around such proposed developments as the Westboro convent will have heard several extremely similar arguments, minus the word ‘affordable’, of course.
The biggest difference between social and private development in terms of process is “who threatens who” when talk turns to taking a contentious development to expensive third-party adjudicators like the Ontario Municipal Board. In the case of private developments, it is usually the developers who go the OMB route, taking a project the community opposes and trying to push it through on appeal.
With social housing it is often the other way around; though the planners typically have zoning on their side, it is opponents in the community who threaten an OMB appeal. The point for the social sector is that because they are so strapped for cash they simply cannot afford expensive appeals, even if they are certain to win, so predicting the nature of their opposition and finding strategies to overcome it through meaningful dialogue is vital.