Consider this: A seven-point process to address community opposition

Grassroots Citizens Meeting in Dunbar (Updated Oct 6) Below is a seven-point process with suggestions on how to address community opposition. The specific example is for “non-market housing” going into existing neighbourhoods, but perhaps the same approach could be applied to many other scenarios. The author has extensive experience in community dialogue and wishes to remain anonymous. In the upcoming civic elections in B.C. will any candidates take this approach to heart?

1. First, make sure you understand the underlying reasons for the opposition.

Neighbours could have concerns for safety, opposition to density beyond what their area is zoned for, concerns about construction (noise, traffic, etc.), concerns about neighbourliness (noise, belligerence, panhandling, etc.), loss of property value, belief that their neighbourhood is already delivering more than their fair share of non-market housing, or any of a host of other issues.

Don’t assume that you accurately know what their concerns actually are. Take the time to identify all of their concerns, by actually talking to (not just surveying) those who have concerns.

Listen, and don’t try to convince them of your own opinion. Don’t (at this stage) try to gain their agreement to proceed with your intended plans.

Just listen, acknowledge to them that their concerns are real, and make sure that they believe that you understand them.

Let them feel heard, by actually listening and actually seeing things from their perspective.

Gain their agreement that you have identified all of their concerns.


2. Second, actually believe that their concerns are real.

You don’t have to agree that their feared negative outcome will happen — just that their concern about the negative outcome is real.

Take their concern as a fact. Don’t deny — to them or to yourself — that their concern is real.

This is called empathy. Without true empathy, this approach will not work.

Whether their feared negative outcomes will actually happen or not is immaterial at this stage: their concern is real.

3. Seriously and collaboratively work with the neighbourhood and other stakeholders to actually address all identified concerns.

Don’t claim that the concerns aren’t real. (See step 2.)

Don’t claim that they’re not worth addressing. They are.

Take tangible, collaborative steps to identify ways to mitigate and/or prevent the negative outcomes before they happen.

Create these plans, collaboratively with the neighbourhood, in advance of the negative outcomes actually happening.

Gain agreement that these plans, if enacted, will actually address their (real) concerns.

Don’t claim that addressing these concerns would be too expensive. If these concerns aren’t realized, then neither are the mitigation expenses. And if the concerns turn out to be realized, the planned solutions will already have been budgeted and planned.

Ensure and demonstrate that the required resources and funding are pre-committed for the duration of the potential for the negative outcomes. Share the plans and make sure that the neighbours believe that the compromises / mitigations / preventions will actually work.

In other words, actually collaborate with the neighbourhood to actually remove the (potential for) the causes for concern.

If at the end of this step, the neighbourhood doesn’t trust these plans and believe they are/will be effective at addressing their concerns, repeat this step 3.


4. Once this is done, if opposition to the non-market housing still exists, go back to step one.

It is highly likely that the true reasons for opposition is not opposition to non-market housing, but fear or concern about some anticipated outcome related to the housing.


5. If after addressing all identified concerns, and you’re sure all concerns have been identified, it’s time to tackle the issue of non-market housing itself.

Most people — even those who live in so-called NIMBY neighbourhoods, are not against non-market housing itself. We’re all safer when our neighbours have a roof over their heads, are well nourished, and feel safe. To be against such basic needs is inhuman. Call it out if this mindset (and not the above-mentioned concerns about negative outcomes) persists.

Most people are also not even against non-market housing in their own neighbourhood. If this is the actual root cause of neighbourhood opposition, and not one or more of the other above-mentioned concerns about negative outcomes, address this viewpoint directly — but only after removing all of the identified feared negative outcomes and concerns as outlined above.

6. Address this mitigation-resisitant opposition for what you (and they) now must acknowledge what it is: NIMBYism.

By this point, you’ve addressed all of their real concerns about negative outcomes — now they’ve got no remaining defence against being called a NIMBY.

Now address the NIMBYism by appealing to their sense of fairness; every neighbourhood must bear their fair share of the commitment to the greater social good.

If this neighbourhood is already bearing its full share, go back to step 3. Target a different neighbourhood, or reduce the project scale, so that the plan actually is fair.


7. At this point, it becomes a pro-social-good vs. anti-social-good argument.

By this time, it’s clear which side has the moral high ground and the upper hand, and holdouts at this point are likely to be a decided minority.

The outcome, at this point, is a community that no longer fears the negative outcomes of social housing, because those negative outcomes have actually been addressed.

The outcome is a community that believes that they’re doing the right thing by supporting the greater social good.


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