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Thinking long-term about affordability near transit

There are numerous benefits to the transformation of blighted neighborhoods with vacant and underutilized properties into walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities that offer residents access to public transportation, jobs and a host of amenities. Not only does the immediate community realize these benefits; the greater region also does. These transit and job centers often act as economic engines for their cities, providing employment, shopping and recreation for those living outside the area. They can also add to the overall vibrancy of their respective cities, serving as hallmark locations that often receive national recognition.

But at the same time, these developments often come at a cost to those who most need better access to transit, jobs and vital services. Reliable transit and the other amenities afforded by TOD usually add a premium to housing costs in these areas – and this premium often increases as demand for transit and location efficiency drives residential and commercial growth in these communities. At some point, these transit and job centers may no longer be affordable to low-, moderate- or even middle-income households.

Working families with tight household budgets benefit most from proximity to transit, jobs and services. In certain parts of the country, their combined housing and transportation costs can eat up well over half their monthly income. Living in these location-efficient, transit-oriented communities can help these families significantly reduce their transportation costs…but only if housing in these communities remains affordable to them.

So how can these lower-income, working households gain access to these vibrant, transit- and amenity-rich neighborhoods?

Localities like Austin, TX, and Fairfax County, VA, are employing programs that preserve the affordability of for-sale and rental properties in areas undergoing major transit investment. Essentially, the housing created using these programs will remain affordable for as long as the transit improvements themselves will last – several decades, maybe even centuries.

Austin projects like the Mueller Airport redevelopment use inclusionary zoning tools that set aside a quarter of units in new developments to be affordable to low-income households in combination with PeopleTrust, a shared equity housing program that keeps these homes affordable for at least 99 years. The ambitious redevelopment plan for Tysons Corner in Fairfax County employs a similar inclusionary set-aside program along with long-term affordability restrictions for rental and for-sale units that will preserve affordability over and beyond the three-decade development timeline for the project.

The Cornerstone Partnership, the Center for Housing Policy and the National Housing Conference recently hosted a webinar exploring tools and strategies for providing long-term affordability near transit, highlighting the efforts in Austin and Fairfax County. If you have any questions you’d like to pose to the presenters and the greater housing policy community, you can post them on the Forum.

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