Building Affordable Housing Around Transit: Plan Ahead and Spread It Out

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Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2018 9:30 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Cities of all sizes are facing a shortage of housing for their poorest, most vulnerable residents. And a smaller set of booming cities are becoming completely unaffordable to even the middle class. To ensure enough attainable housing is built to satisfy demand, particularly as new transit service comes to an area and raises land values, such housing has to be planned for and spread out as much as possible.

We’ve all heard about the housing crises in big cities like San Francisco and Boston, where the supply of housing isn’t keeping up with demand and prices for even tiny apartments have become exorbitant. But the housing crisis isn’t only confined to the biggest cities. Places like Albuquerque, N.M., and Tulsa, Okla., are facing their own problems. As more people move to urban areas and seek out a finite supply of walkable or transit-connected neighborhoods, income inequality continues to worsen, and lower-income households are forced to the urban periphery to find a reasonably priced home, communities everywhere are feeling the crunch.

We do have solutions though. In a recent panel about zoning for revitalization without displacement at the 2018 LOCUS Leadership Summit, the speakers addressed the issue head-on.

Harriet Tregoning, a former official in the Office of Community Planning at HUD, simply said, "Start sooner and plan for success." Getting ahead of the curve and planning for affordable housing is key, especially as new transit service arrives.

"If you plan for success and it takes a few more years [for new development to arrive], the cost is pretty small." But if you miss the chance and don’t have the zoning in place that allows for the type of development a community needs and the density to support transit, "the results can be devastating."

Without an explicit commitment to affordable housing up front, the opportunity can be lost as developers buy up land and develop it into higher-end market rate apartments and condos.

It’s not just about the quantity, though. The location is equally important. Tregoning talked about how developers will often push back on requirements for affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods. In lieu of meeting those requirements in the more desirable or transit-accessible neighborhood, they may ask if they can build affordable housing in a nearby area instead. The developer might even promise more affordable units at the alternate location than originally planned or required in the original project. That might make sense until, as a result, all affordable housing is concentrated in the same few areas.

This point echoed one made during the conference keynote by Majora Carter, a leading urban revitalization strategy consultant and real estate developer.

"When you concentrate poverty," said Carter, "you concentrate all of the issues associated with it…you exacerbate poorer health outcomes, lower rates of educational attainment, higher rates of all the things associated with the prison industrial complex, and most importantly the lack of hope that is experienced in those communities where they [have been told] they’re doomed to failure."

As more and more cities expand and build new light rail lines and other high-capacity transit services, they should be thinking about affordable housing from the beginning and baking it into their plans for transit-oriented development around stations.

With the right zoning, planning, incentives, and a proactive approach, it’s possible to not only preserve the existing amount of affordable housing in an area that may be ripe for gentrification, and thus help prevent displacement, but even expand the amount of affordable housing.

SOURCE: Smart Growth America

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