3 Things Needed to Improve Transit-Oriented Development

Affordable and convenient transit is important to helping people access the employment, education and critical services required for physical and economic well-being. However, many low-income individuals lack access to transit, resulting in expensive and time-consuming commutes. In recent years, advocates of equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) have attempted to make access to transit an important consideration in regional economic development planning and construction.

Equitable transit-oriented development, the practice of prioritizing social equity alongside transit-oriented development, has been gaining attention and traction in recent years. Some of the key goals of this work include:


  • Creating more livable communities where individuals of all income levels have access to the jobs, housing and community amenities and facilities that they require while also minimizing the burden of housing and;

  • Lowering transportation costs for everyone, especially low-income residents.

In Filling the Financing Gap for Equitable Transit-Oriented Development, Living Cities partnered with the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) to learn how to make TOD projects that contribute to equitable outcomes easier to finance and build. The writers studied four regions—Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the San Francisco Bay Area—to help identify systematic financing gaps as well as recommend capital and policy solutions to address the issues. The following are some highlights from the report:

1. Equitable TOD Needs New Forms of Collaboration and Partnerships Between Unlikely Bedfellows: Achieving equitable TOD requires processes that bridge traditional gaps between housing agencies, transit planners, economic development offices and other interested stakeholders. Planning processes also require that employers, community based organizations, developers and financial institutions find new ways of working together. For example, in the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Planning Commission worked with nonprofits and financial institutions to develop a $50 million fund to finance affordable housing and community facilities near transit in communities that the public sector had prioritized for development.

2. Conventional Financing Products Need to Evolve to Support Equitable TOD: Over the last decade, innovation and thinking in the field of TOD has advanced considerably. Advocates of equitable TOD have come to understand the value of corridor-level planning, as well as the importance of preserving housing affordability as the value of land near transit rises. However, many real estate projects continue to be built without consideration for the larger regional transit plans or implications for low-income individuals. This is due in part to limited coordination but also the limitations of current financing products available to support equitable TOD goals. For example, many real estate developers seeking loans to acquire land near oncoming transit have difficulty obtaining the loan amounts that they require because traditional lenders base their lending on historical land values, not on land values that reflect potential increased values due to oncoming transit. As such, there is a potential to develop loan products that take subordinate positions on the land and provide the patience for land values to increase with oncoming transit.

3. Clarity of Intent is Critical: Regions with the leadership to conduct the public and private process to reach “clarity of intent” among critical stakeholders are able to execute more quickly and efficiently on their Equitable TOD goals. By prioritizing and aligning resources and efforts, these regions are able to move from planning to implementation more smoothly than regions that lack these attributes.

Through this latest paper and other work on equitable TOD we’ve been doing at Living Cities, we are learning more about what can be done to advance equitable TOD and the capital, policy and implementation challenges. We are excited to share these lessons from our partners from LIIF and Enterprise. We invite you to read the paper and join in the discussion. Please contact me at achung@livingcities.org to join the dialogue.

(Photo by T55Z CC)

1 COMMENT

  1. Terrific study. Interesting how the connection between preservation of affordable housing near transit has not only caught on theoretically, but, as exhibited in the Denver TOD fund, on the ground. Especially like the last point about being intentional about what we are trying to achieve. Another way to think about this is that in a resource constrained environment, strategic/prioritized funding is all that more crucial.

    This study builds on the work we engaged in with Enterprise and Reconnecting America in studying some of these same cities in this document:
    http://www.practitionerresources.org/cache/documents/674/67410.pdf

    As all of us adapt to a new normal of a resource constrained environment, important to use tools we can to promote diversity and equity near transit. At National Housing Trust, very intentional about working with residents in gentrifying neighborhoods with good transit options to give them the option to remain in their homes via preservation of existing housing near transit. We’ll be putting out a study this summer that demonstrates correlation between housing tax credit incentives and preservation and production near transit.

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