Thursday, October 8, 2015

Equitable transit-oriented development: Public benefit disguised as sticks and bricks

by Walker Wells, Global Green; Cady Seabaugh, McCormack Baron Salazar; and John Hersey, Enterprise Community Partners

NHC invites our members to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

Housing and transportation are the two largest costs for the typical American household. Those concerned with reducing the cost of living for low- and moderate-income earners often focus on affordable housing: increasing funding; aligning resources; coordinating priorities; strengthening regulations; etc. While this work is invaluable, the effort could go farther by considering access to affordable transportation. 

Source: Federal Highway Administration
Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) promotes inclusive, transit-rich neighborhoods that accommodate a mix of incomes, land uses and modes of travel. It argues that young professionals, working families, fixed-income seniors and others should benefit from the variety of commercial and cultural amenities that robust and reliable transit often attracts. Ultimately, eTOD intends to leverage public investment in transit for greater public benefit.

Enterprise Community Partners’ research on eTOD highlights myriad benefits of the development model for low- and moderate-income residents and regions as a whole.
  • Low- and moderate-income people use transit more than higher-income earners, so eTOD not only helps residents get around; it may increase “fare box revenue,” too.
  • With 75 percent of all jobs in the nation’s 100 largest metro regions accessible by transit, greater access to transit reduces low-wage workers’ periods of unemployment.
  • By promoting walking and transit use, eTOD helps to address chronic health issues typical of low-income communities and to encourage seniors to receive medical care.
  • By addressing the “drive ‘til you qualify” mantra that pushes low-income families to ostensibly more affordable exurbs, eTOD reduces roadway congestion for drivers while promoting density and greater return on investment than suburban sprawl.

The desire to maximize transit investments has driven communities like Lakewood, Colorado to partner with Global Green’s Sustainable Neighborhood Assessment Program. In part based on Global Green’s recommendations, the city improved the pedestrian streetscape around a neighborhood-scale light-rail station while the area’s housing authority, MetroWest Housing Solutions, constructed a mixed-income apartment building, Lamar Station Crossing, to ensure equitable development only 15 minutes from rapidly gentrifying downtown Denver.

Developed by McCormack Baron Salazar in partnership with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MacArthur Park Metro Apartments in Los Angeles exemplifies mixed-use eTOD, with 90 affordable apartments, retail space and a shared-parking structure for commuters, residents, customers and bicyclists. Enhancing the development’s connection with transit, each low-income family receives one complimentary transit pass and may purchase additional transit passes at a discount.

Affordable-housing advocates, local and state housing staff, elected representatives and developers should take the next step and partner with peers in transit to promote eTOD as a fundamental attribute essential to producing and sustaining a vital economy, a diverse housing market, access to economic advancement and increased equity. The 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria aims to bridge that divide, rewarding developers whose projects sit near high-frequency transit or include transportation-demand management strategies like discounted transit passes and bike-share.

If these stakeholders better understood the deep advantages of eTOD to families of all incomes, the development model would serve to anchor a regional mosaic of socially inclusive, economically vibrant and resource efficient neighborhoods to the benefit of all.  

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