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Microblog #99 People are not pollutants

Dealing with NIMBYism? Do your housing homework before suggesting out-of-the-box solutions.

Academics have long studied the motivations behind “NIMBYs” who oppose new affordable housing in their communities. Two California researchers recently attempted to add to that body of research by claiming that a common NIMBY fear—property value loss—is substantiated by data. In doing so, they generated fierce criticism from other academics for their methods, conclusions, and recommendations. Here’s why.

First, the researchers did not quantify specific affordable housing developments as an independent variable—instead relying on a “proxy” using the number of African American, Latino, low-educated, and low-income households in a census tract. These assumptions reinforce unfounded stereotypes about who actually benefits from affordable housing.

Second, they did not contextualize their analysis with any relevant structural factors, such as redlining and urban renewal, that play major roles in connecting race, income, and home values.

Finally, the authors end with a suggestion that localities could pay other areas to take on their affordable housing responsibility to “reimburse” homeowners for an expected loss of value. This “cap and trade” model—used for controlling atmospheric toxins–treats people living in affordable housing as pollutants.

This example is an unfortunate but useful lesson that language, framing, and historical context matter significantly when evaluating data and proposing solutions for our collective housing challenges.


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