By Joe Dillard
The release of this toolkit is significant for several reasons. First, it has practical relevance for organizations that seek to provide housing for formerly incarcerated people and other populations that communities fear or dread. Community opposition can be one of the greatest challenges an organization faces as it works to establish services for populations that are considered “threatening.” “Not in My Back Yard” – commonly referred to as “NIMBY” – opposition can result in significant program delays or even complete shutdown of such projects. This case study illustrates how, when handled strategically, those who fiercely oppose a project in the beginning may become an organization’s strongest supporters.
Readers will learn the nature of the strong opposition faced by the Fortune Society from neighbors who feared its arrival more than they feared the drug-ridden building and vacant lot that had endangered their neighborhood for some 20 years previously. The toolkit culminates with key lessons and steps to help other organizations as they work to establish or sustain housing efforts. By offering tangible steps and lessons learned by Fortune, this toolkit provides guidance and encouragement to those organizations working to assist formerly incarcerated people and to create safer communities.
A second value of the toolkit is that it demonstrates how Fortune successfully applied concepts and techniques from the literature on organizational change, negotiation and conflict resolution, and organizational learning to accomplish their goals. Fortune embarked on extensive self-reflection and undertook an assessment of organizational capacity prior to launching its initiative to develop strong relationships with community members, knowing that it would be a long and difficult process. The relationship that The Fortune Society eventually established with its neighbors in West Harlem was squarely based in the philosophy of the organization, e.g., a strong belief in a “second chance” for the formerly incarcerated, and Fortune’s commitment to transparency, honesty and integrity.
Finally, this toolkit represents a collaboration between three organizations with complementary skills and knowledge: The ICCCR at Teachers College, The Fortune Society, the Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The Fortune Society is a ~40 year old, highly respected “alternative to incarceration and reentry” agency with some 200 employees. PRI is a well known prisoner reentry organization within John Jay College and was the recipient of a grant from the Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Finally, the ICCCR brought to the table knowledge of the literature on negotiation and conflict resolution, and organizational change and learning. Also, our literature review, interviewing and writing skills made the toolkit concept a reality. The product is the richer and more robust because the perspectives of these three organizations had to be accommodated and integrated.
For a copy of this toolkit, In Our Backyard: Overcoming Community Resistance to Reentry Housing (A NIMBY Toolkit) click here.