Four Benefits of Creating Transit-Oriented Development with Mixed-Income Housing

Can Housing Be Truly Affordable Without Public Transit?

By Maya Henry Posted on January 25, 2017


When transit-oriented development is combined with mixed-income housing the benefits multiply. Transportation is a hidden cost of living and is at the heart of equitable access to services and jobs. It’s difficult to have truly affordable housing without access to multi-modal transportation choices.

Transportation is so crucial to healthy communities that former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx called it “one of the top social justice issues of our time.”

Local officials agree. Last year at an event at Pitt’s Institute of Politics Kevin Acklin, Chief of Staff to Mayor Peduto, said, “transportation can be a bridge to lift people out of poverty.”  He noted that the administration is paying special attention to places of disinvestment and displacement.

The p4 PITTSBURGH PolicyLink report (a must-read for those interested in the future of Pittsburgh’s development) titled Equitable Development: A Path to an All-in Pittsburgh states, with regard to the implementation of the Affordable Housing Task Force’s recommendations: “Concentrating affordable housing development and preservation near frequent transit service is a key approach.”

Additionally, the PolicyLink report also recommends that the Port Authority’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) guidelines be used along Pittsburgh’s frequent bus and light-rail network and create the basis for new TOD zoning throughout the city.

Pittsburgh’s Complete Streets policy has been newly enacted and can ensure that communities are walkable and bikeable from the beginning and not overburdened with reliance on automobiles which contributes to a larger percentage of household income spent on transportation.

The average American family spends 19% of their household income on transportation.  (In an auto-dependent suburb/exurb it’s 25%.)  Yet in a community with transportation choices that number falls to 9% of household income.

To be eligible for Section 8 housing subsidies a family of four in Pittsburgh cannot make more than $35,600 so they are likely spending $6,764 of that on transportation.  In contrast, in a community with transportation choices, that number falls by more than half to $3,204.

There are many benefits to both TOD and affordable housing on their own, but there are major benefits for communities when both come together.

Benefits of Mixed-Income TOD:

1. Offers Truly Affordable Housing
Can housing truly be affordable without access to affordable transportation? According to household income numbers, the answer is no.

2. Stabilizes Transit Ridership
TOD in general stabilizes transit ridership, but low-income households are four times as likely to utilize public transit, meaning that with mixed-income TOD it is much easier to predict ridership levels to stabilize transit service.

3. Broadens Access to Opportunity
Transportation must be reliable and affordable in these communities to support residents’ access to social services and job opportunities, allowing them to retain employment and pursue opportunities if they are underemployed.

4. Relieves Gentrification Pressures
Without a plan in place to include a diverse range of incomes the enticement of TOD often brings along higher-income residents.  Income requirements help residents of all incomes to remain in communities or give low-income residents the choice to locate in communities that provide them with better transportation choices.

Consider joining the AIA Housing Knowledge Community!  The AIA Housing Knowledge Community encompasses custom residential, market-rate housing, green building practices, multifamily housing, special-needs housing, and other areas. Designing affordable multiunit housing is an important part of their practice. If you are interested in participating in the discussion please contact housing@aia.org.

Where would you like to see the next TOD projects in the region?  Are you advocating or involved in affordable housing or is your firm involved in TOD projects?  We’d love to hear from you!

Sources: University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics Innovation, Investment and Improvement: A Conversation about the Future of Regional Transportation in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  April 22, 2016. (Images: Wikipedia Commons).

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