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Calls to Action

Combating NIMBYism: Not in My Back Yard

What does “Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)” mean?

NIMBYism is a term that is used to describe opposition from neighbors to the development or acquisition of a group home occupied by individuals with special needs.  People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) who are planning to move into a group home are often directly targeted by NIMBYism.   

NIMBYism often takes root when community members are misinformed about their new neighbors. So here are some important facts about adults with autism in general, and about the community concerns they may encounter, however obviously misguided they may be.   

What Does It Mean to Be “On the Spectrum”?

Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means. Autism Speaks’ mission is to improve the lives of all those on the autism spectrum. For some, this means the development and delivery of more effective treatments that can address significant challenges in communication and physical health. For others, it means increasing acceptance, respect and support.

Some Important Facts

  • Dozens of studies that reviewed the property value of neighborhoods with group homes concluded that group homes have no significant negative impact on the value of neighboring properties. Moreover, some studies reported positive effects on property value.
  • Permanent supportive housing facilities have no discernible negative impact on their surrounding neighborhoods’ character or stability; in fact, the conclusion would be the impact is a net positive for the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Published reports have also found there is less residential turnover near the group home compared to similar areas.
  • Neighborhoods with supportive housing facilities are consistently more stable than comparative neighborhoods, with lower rates of crime and smaller fluctuations in real estate demand and price.

In addition to presenting the facts about people with autism and the value they bring to a community, it is important to take proactive steps to ensure a positive experience for everyone. Once negative emotions take over a public meeting, very little progress can be made and anger is often aimed at the wrong people. An experienced provider agency should begin by collecting the following necessary information:

  • First, learn about the history of the community and its residents. Has there been support or opposition to provider-owned homes in the past? The agency that is supporting the development can research this with you.
  • Learn about any zoning or other restrictions that need to be addressed prior to a proposed purchase. Research possible legal arguments for or against the purchase of the home that you need help to prepare for a hearing. 
  • Ensure that the changes to the outside and inside of the home maintain the neighborhood’s current architectural look and character.
  • Rally support from families, neighbors, community leaders, legislators, human service staff and advocacy organizations.  Make sure to acknowledge and address concerns that are relevant to the property. 
  • Create opportunities to participate in community events that support the neighborhood.  Volunteer at these activities when you can.  Understand the culture of the community and how the individuals with ASDs would contribute to that culture including arts, music, employment, volunteerism, etc.
  • Plan and execute a public relations campaign that effectively communicates the benefits of adding the group home to the neighborhood and community.  Adults with autism and the families that support them are assets to their communities in many ways that are often not publicized effectively.  

Advocacy Advice from Denise Resnik, co-founder of Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and First Place AZ

  • Know your local jurisdiction: elected officials, policymakers and directors, zoning rules and regulations.
  • Know thy neighbor: immediate adjacent neighbors (within at least 400 feet), their issues, concerns and opportunities.  Build trust and relationships.
  • Know the history: prior cases, particularly those that go sour have lasting impact – both in terms of public opinion as well as fear by local officials, particularly those running for reelection!
  • Know your project and case: succinctly articulate the project, its value proposition to the community and how it serves the intended population. Pretty pictures sell! 
  • Reduce fear:  Before we can mitigate the fear factor, we need to know where it's coming from; focus groups are good for this. Later, these participants can act as ambassadors and champions for the home.
  • Empower your project with good brands: involve trusted leaders, companies and officials in the early planning for the project. Early buy-in can be very valuable.
  • Don't underestimate creativity.  Show how it’s worked in other neighborhoods.
  • Deploy a mix of mediums/communiques: neighbors receive information in a variety of ways – one size does not fit all.
Video: NBC 4 reports on "The Good Fight: Special-Needs Young Adults Flourish in Housing Community



More guidance from Elaine Corrington, Coordinator of Special Projects at The Center for Discovery in NY

  • It is important that the advocates speaking on behalf of the adults with autism have consistent messages and the proper ability to be respectful of different thinking – while working toward agreeable partnerships.
  • Focus on the values that you share with the other citizens of the community. You can use those shared values to join in creating mutual opportunities, events, wellness, businesses, educational opportunities, recreation, environmental protection, beautification, etc. that really originate from the desires of the current residents.
  • Identify the people in the community who are respected and listened to – and then get their help in making opportunities for your residents, families and staff to quietly join in projects in the community that they would enjoy and that the citizens would value. 
  • It is important to prepare staff and residents for these experiences – not everyone has the skill set to simply “wing it.”
  • Quiet appreciation for help and support in any form can build relationships as fellow citizens (peers who can be mutually beneficial) and begin friendships (an important life goal for many adults with ASDs).

Resources Available to Advocates