These Transit Agencies Want You to Build on Their Land
Public transit providers are struggling to make ends meet. Many agencies are in a vicious cycle: the increased use of ride-hailing and bike-sharing services means fewer riders, creating a decline in revenue, which, along with the chronic lack of funding, results in further service cuts. It doesn’t help that in many communities, an affordable housing shortage has displaced lower-income riders who typically rely on transit.
Phil Washington of Los Angeles Metro once said, “I don’t want to build new tracks, I want to make sure people can live near our transit.” It is this same spirit that is behind affordable housing advocates finding new allies—in public transit agencies.
Los Angeles’ Metro transit agency is one several around the nation that has focused on transit-oriented development and either partnered with affordable housing developers or promoted affordable housing near its stations. Since 2016, Metro has distributed $9 million in low-interest rate loans for affordable housing on land adjacent to its stations as part of its Joint Development Program. Like other agencies, Metro also has an explicit affordable housing policy, requiring that at least 35 percent of all housing units developed on its properties be set aside for households making less than 60 percent of the area median income, or roughly $56,000 per year. The program has generated more than 700 subsidized affordable units near the agency’s rapidly expanding system, with another 162 affordable units in construction, and almost 600 more in negotiation.
It turns out that transit agencies have a lot to gain from affordable housing. Transit providers are often major landowners in their communities, controlling underutilized properties like park-and-ride lots or leftover pieces of land from the construction of a new project, or storage and maintenance facilities. These sites are also opportunities to provide desperately needed affordable housing, which in turn creates increased ridership from residents and visitors, as well as additional revenue. For instance . . .