A survey suggests concerns about affordable public housing bringing down property values and generally ruining the neighbourhood may be unfounded.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have sought to find out what actually happens when housing projects for the economically disadvantaged are built. They have found that opposition is typically based on prejudice; in reality the impacts are minor and rarely negative.

As affordable housing approvals increased in the wake of the Federal Government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Package from 2009 to 2011, community opposition grew too. The new survey of some of the most controversial projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre found that community fears were often misplaced or made up.

Eighty per cent of respondents in areas close to recent schemes said there had been little or no impact on their neighbourhoods or on house prices.

“We picked the most controversial housing projects we could,” said UNSW study leader Dr Gethin Davison

“When they were built, most people said they noticed little or no change in their neighbourhood. It was pretty much a storm in a teacup.”

The study did not just ask people how they felt; it polled residents, focus groups and various stakeholders, it also included input from property value statistics and public submissions against the projects.

Research found that opposition to the projects was hard to pin to any part of reality, and was largely generated by media reporting and politicians’ concern-mongering. Opposition was most fierce, organised and effective in wealthy suburbs.

“People fear various things will happen when affordable housing is approved such as antisocial behaviour and a fall in property values – but they’re all to do with stereotypes,” Dr Davison said.

The escalation of minor concerns over affordable housing project is a favourite tool for media and politicians, the report found. It is important to dispel such baseless fears, as they can delay construction and increase costs to developers. This exacerbates housing shortages and increases affordability problems.

It seems people should be less fearful in their judgment of the less wealthy, and relax their ‘Not In My Back Yard’ (NIMBY) mentality.

“Consultation and education are key,” Dr Davison said. “Being dismissed out of hand as a NIMBY just makes people angrier. We need people to understand that most affordable housing developments won’t have any negative impact on quality of life or property values in their neighbourhood. And we need to involve them more in the planning process”

Full details of the research and proceeding report are available here