A guide to inclusive communities
Reprinted from "Housing: Discrimination and Inclusion" Issue of Visions Journal, 2015, 10 (3), p. 25
Imagine for a moment that you are a member of city council. You are in a meeting to determine if your idyllic neighbourhood, full of tree-lined streets and manicured park spaces, already has too many white people in it.
A Case Study: Union Gospel Mission and Good Neighbor Agreements3
The Union Gospel Mission (UGM) is one of Vancouver’s largest supportive housing providers, with multiple sites across Metro Vancouver. In January 2010, UGM created a Good Neighbour Agreement (GNA) to assist with relations between their supportive housing site and Vancouver’s Strathcona and Downtown Eastside communities.
Simply put, a GNA outlines an organization’s commitment to being a good neighbour. It’s a way to promote dialogue and earn trust in the community. For UGM, the agreement helped dispel contentious disputes, and while not a legally binding document, the GNA addressed local residents’ concerns, as it was crafted with their participation.
See the UGM GNA at https://www.ugm.ca/good-neighbour-agreement/
It goes without saying that would simply never happen. There would be riots in the streets if our cities tried to limit where ‘white’ people lived based solely on the colour of their skin.
As far-fetched as this may sound, it is precisely this type of discrimination that people with mental health and substance use problems, who are on welfare or disability income, or who are homeless, experience every day.
We have high levels of community agreement that our cities need homeless shelters to give people a warm, safe place to stay for a night. We also agree that we need supportive housing for people with substance use and mental health problems. But we continue to struggle with where those essential services should be located.
Often, proposals for a new shelter or housing development are strongly opposed by a small, vocal group of residents. They’re concerned that a shelter will attract what they call unwanted or dangerous people, making the community unsafe and perhaps even driving down property values. They describe these people as “criminals” and “junkies,” and try to build opposition to shelters and supportive housing by sending emails, distributing flyers and posters, and holding public meetings.
“Not in my backyard!” is a common refrain from this group. NIMBY (not in my backyard) is a term used to describe a person who objects to allowing people they perceive as unpleasant or potentially dangerous into their neighbourhood.
YIMBY, on the other hand, is a lesser known term, but is a necessary counter to NIMBY. YIMBY describes people who understand the value of addressing homelessness, addictions and mental illness in a proactive and respectful way through safe and supportive housing. They are active in welcoming new people and projects into their neighbourhoods, saying instead, “Yes in my backyard!”
How to be an effective YIMBY
You can be a part of the YIMBY movement by advocating for housing and community inclusion of all people. To be effective, there are a few steps you can take.
Apply the Cringe Test1 – If you hear a statement that you think sounds wrong, try saying the same thing about a racial, ethnic or religious minority. For example, take the statement, “This neighbourhood already has its fair share of people on welfare.” Now change “people on welfare” to some other minority groups: “This neighbourhood already has its fair share of white people” or “This neighbourhood already has its fair share of gays and lesbians” or “This neighbourhood already has its fair share of Jews.”
It becomes immediately obvious that the statement about people on welfare is a discriminatory NIMBY statement, and not a legitimate objection to a homeless shelter or housing project.
Bust myths – NIMBYs will often use myths and stereotypes to support their discriminatory opposition, making claims like this: “A homeless shelter will decrease the value of my home.”
The best defence against these myths is to respond with facts. In this example, BC’s Ministry Responsible for Housing has reported there is no evidence that the presence of supportive housing negatively affects the sale prices of homes in the impact area. In fact, house prices in the vicinity of such housing projects increased as much—and in some cases, more—than similar nearby housing.2
Familiarize yourself with the myths and be ready with the facts.
Speak up – The last thing you can do is speak up against NIMBYism. Point out discrimination when you see it. Consider contacting your city council to support shelter and housing projects in your neighbourhood. Or, make a human rights complaint against a NIMBYist individual or neighbourhood group.
The BC Human Rights Code protects people from discrimination on the basis of disability, including mental illness and addiction. It is designed to ensure that people who are in need or homeless are not denied or evicted from housing.
Despite this, the human rights process is rarely used to protect people against NIMBYist discrimination. The human rights complaint process can be slow and may not resolve quickly enough to change the outcome of a given shelter or housing project. However, it is a very important tool for breaking down NIMBYism.
If you or someone you know has been discriminated against in access to housing, based on disability or welfare income, consider filing a human rights complaint. The more people who stand up against NIMBYs, the more society will recognize the NIMBYism and stop it before NIMBYs have the chance to act.
The community we aspire to is one that welcomes everyone into it. Yes, in my backyard.
About the authorDJ Larkin is a lawyer and campaigner for housing justice with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, BC
Home Coming Community Choice Coalition. (2005) Yes in my Backyard: A guide for Ontario’s supportive housing providers (Rev. ed.). https://www.fcm.ca/Documents/tools/ACT/Housing_In_My_Backyard_A_Municipal_Guide_For_Responding_To_NIMBY_EN.pdf.
BC Ministry of Housing, Recreation and Consumer Services. (1995) Toward more inclusive neighbourhoods. www.housing.gov.bc.ca/pub/htmldocs/pub_neighbour/p_value1.htm.
Pivot Legal Society. (n.d.) Yes, in my backyard: Welcoming inclusion, upholding human rights. www.pivotlegal.org/yes_in_my_backyard_toolkit.