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Dealing With the Fear of Multi-Family Housing

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The “No Apartments In My Back Yard” attitude of most single-family neighborhoods is an expression of fear. Not a fear of the unknown, but a fear of the known — a fear people have that they will lose control over their environment. Likely your community has at least one place that people can point to and say “that might happen here, next to me!” It is not hard to find examples of multi-family projects that have devalued surrounding housing and created centers of crime. Worse still, most communities can find existing neighborhoods zoned for multi-family where this zoning has resulted in neighborhood decline, even if there are no apartments.

The answer to this fear is to understand it — and to give people reason to believe they need not fear. As planners, we must take concrete actions to change the conditions that have led to problems with multi-family housing. …

Planners can begin to take steps to foster positive and successful multi-family developments — and to improve the condition of existing problem-plagued projects. This is the best way to overcome peoples’ fears about multi-family housing. Here are some strategies your planning or community development department might consider pursuing.

1. Scrutinize your growth areas. The best time to create sites for apartments is before an area is surrounded by single-family development. For example, consider requiring, through your planned residential development (PRD) or comparable regulations, new projects to include viable apartment sites. This provides the opportunity to create some positive examples of how multi-family can mesh with nearby single-family housing — while avoiding later NIMBY battles.

2. Evaluate your zoning standards. Review your zoning standards to see what is required for multi-family projects. How strong are the landscaping requirements? How liberal are the height and setbacks standards adjacent to lower density development? …

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