Private Property
Matthew Prensky · February 12, 2024

New Hanover County, North Carolina, like many communities nationwide, is struggling to build enough affordable housing for its growing community. One well-meaning pastor in the county wanted to help fix that, but NIMBY-ism has repeatedly thwarted his efforts. 

NIMBY, or “Not In My Back Yard,” is a growing phenomenon in which residents of a particular area object to proposed development slated to join their community. In practice, instances of NIMBY-ism include members of a community objecting to a woman using her home as a home daycare, or a city facing constant backlash for wanting to build housing for the homeless in residential neighborhoods, or in the case of New Hanover County, neighbors opposing an affordable housing development. 

New Hanover County needs thousands of affordable housing units, so Pastor Robert Campbell decided to fill some of that need using vacant land he owned near his church. Originally, Campbell proposed building 180 affording housing units aimed at seniors on his land, but after receiving feedback from planning officials, the pastor reduced the project to 128 units focused on families. 

Campbell’s revisions received praise from New Hanover County planning staff, but that didn’t matter to residents of a nearby subdivision. During a planning board meeting this month, a half dozen residents testified in opposition to the project because of concerns of flooding and traffic. Representatives for the project tried to reassure residents that multiple analyses showed there would be no impacts to them from flooding or traffic, and that their home values wouldn’t be affected by apartments like these. Nevertheless, New Hanover County’s Planning Board unanimously rejected a rezoning request needed to help the project move forward, with one board member stating the project, “… wasn’t in keeping with the properties around it,” according to one media report

That’s a major problem with NIMBY-ism; it stops well-meaning property owners from being allowed to use their land as they see fit, particularly when their plans could help a community. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has litigated case-after-case where well-intentioned property owners had their constitutional rights and livelihoods upended because neighbors, or others in the community, objected to how someone wanted to use their properties, even if it was in the public interest. 

Bianca King, for example, a single mother of two, chose to open a home daycare to provide childcare to families in her neighborhood. Parents in the neighborhood loved Bianca’s daycare, but the golfers using the golf course beyond her back fence found the sight and sound of children playing so objectionable they tried to shut down her daycare. Golfers showed up to a zoning meeting arguing Bianca’s business didn’t meet the 19 requirements needed to run a business in Lakeway, Texas, which eventually caused Bianca to be denied a permit when she applied. 

Campbell’s affordable housing project wasn’t going to harm the community, just like Bianca’s daycare. Yet in each case, neighbors or local officials objected to what private property owners were doing in their community. In both cases well-meaning Americans were trying to help their community, but NIMBY-ism shut that down. Now, thanks to NIMBY-ism, New Hanover County is no closer to closing their affordable housing gap. 

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