Nanaimo BC Activists Want Social Housing As A Neighbourhood Feature

A quiet older suburban street which could be anywhere
IMG_4455 photo by Andy Nystrom is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Nanaimo, British Columbia neighbourhood street.

A new article about Nanaimo, B.C. affordable housing is an example of growing sophistication by activists who weigh in on truly affordable housing proposals for their local neighbourhoods.

The traditional, and now widely expected, stance by neighbourhood defenders is NIMBY. That response is often couched in sympathetic packaging such as “we agree that more truly affordable housing is needed, somewhere.” But the bottom line is: Not In My Back Yard.

Nanaimo, however, has had the benefit of experiencing a recent British Columbia program based on modular housing for the homeless.1 The housing is not only modular, but can be disassembled and reused elsewhere, promising neighbours that the arrival of supportive housing for people who were homeless need not be a permanent fixture.

And that’s just what’s happening in Nanaimo, where plans are afoot to eventually dismantle existing the temporary modular housing and transfer residents into two new and permanent residences, pending community and council approval.

Which is where more sophisticated neighbourhood activist input has reared its hopeful head.

Some Nanaimo activists, having experienced the concentrated focus of a single residential building, are advocating that the residents should be scattered into smaller residences in more locations, more effectively integrating their occupants into the social fabric of neighbourhoods.

Gone, at least in this case, are apocalyptic spectres of drunks smashing bottles in every driveway on their way to lurking outside local schoolyards, attitudes that have traditionally resulted in neighbourhood bans on social housing.2

Read more about what sounds more like a negotiated “Yes, In My Back Yard” than the classic NIMBY reaction to a proposal for new social housing, in the Times Colonist: Nanaimo Group Wants Supportive Housing Spread Out

A final note:

With social housing residents most often plucked from immensely long waiting lists, or determined by lottery, there is little chance for a city to poll those who might be living in the local social housing which has not even been constructed. What would work best for them?

But for situations like Nanaimo, where the new residents of social housing are in this case already identified, we would hope that the principles of Housing First also include supporting the residents of new social housing, by determining not only what is best for their neighbourhoods, but also what works best for them.


  1. Try: Seattle Eyes Vancouver’s Modular Housing Attack on Homelessness
  2. Edmonton, Alberta, has recently lifted just such a 2012 ban in five city neighbourhoods, a result accomplished with the support of Edmonton police. Try: Is The Social/Public Housing Tide Finally Turning in North America?