The lack of affordable housing is a critical issue throughout the United States. After reversing the COVID-19 pandemic’s induced urban flight from cities, rental prices have quickly risen nationwide. Many communities face increasing financial pressures from the rent hikes, and affordable housing policies remain most important for many municipalities. The provision of affordable housing is of particular interest to public transit agencies with a focus on equity. Transit agencies are uniquely positioned to assist in alleviating the growing crisis by supporting and even directly constructing affordable housing units. Doing so can also support transit agencies directly with increased ridership.
Transit-oriented developments (TODs) have always been seen as a way to create walkable, mixed-used spaces that support vibrant and equitable communities. However, a 2021 study by the University of Utah, which analyzed 85 TODs across the country, found that a third of the developments have no affordable housing. The study concludes that, “TODs are generally unaffordable for low- and moderate-income households. A lack of city-and state-level policy has fragmented TODs affordability because the production relies on nonprofit developers.”
Creative solutions are therefore being proposed. Sound Transit, in collaboration with Amazon, is building 318 affordable housing units near light rail stations. The project received $42.5 million from Amazon through low-interest loans and grants. Future renters will earn 30-80% of the area’s median income. Amazon plans to follow up with 1,200 affordable housing homes on Sound Transit’s property. The public-private partnership between Sound Transit and Amazon may provide a guideline for how other transit agencies can support the communities they serve apart from traditional transportation. The hope is that it will also increase ridership demand for transit.
New Jersey Transit has ambitiously begun several TOD initiatives across the state encompassing several transit modes. Funding was secured in part with FTA grants to develop affordable housing alongside bus rapid transit (BRT) stations. Plans are in progress to construct TODs next to Metropark Station, Newark, Jersey City, and surrounding other major commuter rail stations. NJ Transit, while still using the traditional approach to funding, is leading the nation in new TOD communities. There is little concrete data yet indicating how much of these new units will be classified as affordable housing, but some will be.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is launching several TOD developments specifically targeted for affordable housing units and is currently seeking partners to develop several locations alongside existing stations. Partners include local nonprofit developers and other affordable housing developers with BART’s contribution as reduced land cost. In 2021, the Port Authority of Allegheny County released new guidelines for best practices when implementing TODs, hoping for induced demand leading to new construction. This has led to several local communities to reexamine their zoning codes in support of affordable housing in TODs. One of the most ambitious projects features a multimodal transit station and mixed-used development. Financing of almost $160 million for the total project is coming from local, state, and federal investments alongside other unfinalized means.
With grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration to develop TOD strategy, the Berkley Charleston Dorchester Council of Government (BCDCOG) is advancing equitable TOD at station locations within the proposed Lowcountry Rapid Transit (LCRT), a modern BRT system to serve the greater Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester region. The overarching strategy for equitable TOD along the LCRT corridor is to work with the private sector and regional housing advocates to increase the overall supply of housing, preserve existing naturally occurring affordable units, renovate existing units, and increase the total number of legally restricted units to achieve an overall housing affordability goal of 20% for each station’s walkshed.
In 2019, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) and the City of Memphis were awarded a $12 million department of transportation BUILD grant to design and construct the Memphis Innovation Corridor BRT system, mConnect. Implementation of the mConnect is anticipated in 2026. TOD along the Innovation Corridor will go hand in hand with guiding sustainable growth in Memphis and improving the pedestrian environment. Specific strategies are proposed to address challenges such as affordable housing near jobs and limited financing available for development. Encouraging increased density and public infrastructure improvements through TOD planning is expected to provide more opportunities to live and work in the Innovation Corridor and support using BRT and other sustainable transportation options.
The objective of this project is to develop a guide and innovative products that would assist transit agencies to identify strategies and tools to increase the provision and access to affordable housing along transit and multimodal corridors. The study should:
- Introduce the key definitions of affordable housing in the context of transit.
- Discuss the relationship between affordable housing and transit ridership.
- Identify the relationship between the development program (density, uses, and depth of affordability) and demand for transit and vice-versa.
- Identify state, local, and regional agencies with successful synergy between affordable housing and transit.
- Identify the cultural and societal barriers to successful, equitable TOD planning and implementation, and the associated solutions for mitigating these challenges.
- Examine best practices and provide strategies for successful affordable housing in TODs (shall include anti-displacement tools).
- Identify and evaluate various funding and financing methods to increase transit services to affordable housing.
- Identify and evaluate various funding, financing, and alternative delivery methods for creating TOD focusing on affordable housing (equitable TOD).
The research plan shall be divided into tasks that present, in detail, the work proposed in each task. The research plan shall describe appropriate deliverables that include, but are not limited to, the following (which also represent key project milestones):
- An Amplified Research Plan that responds to comments provided by the project panel at the contractor selection meeting;
- An interim report (i.e., a technical memorandum or report) and virtual meeting that occurs after the expenditure of no more than 40% of the project budget;
- A draft final guide and innovative tools;
- A final guide and innovative tools; and
- A technical memorandum, titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.
STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.