Transit is a powerful urban revitalizer: Let’s make sure that renewal includes everyone

When disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike American communities, we witness our country’s extraordinary strengths—unparalleled emergency response networks, caring and compassionate neighbors, a fierce commitment to help each other rebuild.

But deficits in our infrastructure get revealed, too. I was particularly struck by news coverage of people in Texas, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere who didn’t know how they would evacuate in advance of the storms, because they didn’t own a car and had no access to public transportation. For those of us who think about the relationship between public transit and the wellbeing of our communities, it’s clear that apart from all its many other benefits, transit-oriented development can be part of a resiliency plan, and even a bridge to safety.

The good news is that support for public transit and transit-oriented development (TOD) is flourishing nationwide. We see it in local referendums where citizens have voted overwhelmingly to expand mass transit in their communities, in places like Phoenix, Los Angeles and Indianapolis.

Transit-oriented logo for Bartlett Station Condos.

We also see it in the TOD projects we invest in all across the country–projects that help create compact, vibrant neighborhoods adjacent to mass transit that in turn connects people with jobs, education, recreation and cultural life. In Boston, for instance, we were thrilled to be at the recent groundbreaking for Bartlett Station, a mixed-use development with 323 units of affordable housing, retail and community space, all closely linked to Boston’s bus rapid transit in historically underserved Roxbury.

And we see it in the robust partnerships between public, private and nonprofit agencies promoting transit-oriented communities, as with the Equitable Transit Oriented Development Accelerator Fund that helped get Bartlett Station off the ground. The fund, a collaboration with philanthropy and the City of Boston, has stoked development and preservation of mixed-use, affordable housing that revitalizes and preserves neighborhoods along transit corridors.

Funds like Boston’s, which closed 15 loans leveraging $335 million in total development, reduce housing and transportation costs for low- and moderate-income residents, diminish car use and increase ridership for transit lines. Everybody wins.

Of course, there is still much to accomplish. The task at hand is to ensure that transit-oriented development is inclusive so that when new transit, and the resulting development, arrive in a neighborhood and put pressure on property values, no one gets edged out. We need to align public investments in transportation with forward-looking work to protect and create affordable housing and businesses.

Smart federal and local policy is critical here. Our policy team, together with a range of partners, has proposed changes at the federal level that would amend TOD financing rules so small, non-transportation-related projects—the connective tissue in any transit-oriented neighborhood like mixed-used buildings and community facilities—benefit from public dollars. We also hope to see public TOD funding applied to affordable housing creation, and extended to rural areas, so that no one is left behind.

We are excited to be entering into more conversations about inclusive TOD in places ranging from Buffalo to Newark, and from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Because connecting communities with public transit and all that has to offer can only make them stronger.

About the Author

Maurice Jones is President & CEO of LISC. Prior to joining LISC, Maurice was the Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. Before that, he was second in command at the U.S. Dept. of HUD, serving as deputy secretary in charge of operations. He has also been Commissioner of Virginia’s Dept. of Social Services and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Gov. Mark Warner. At the U.S. Treasury Dept. during the Clinton Administration, he managed the CDFI fund. His private sector experience includes top positions at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C. He is based in Richmond.

Photo of Detroit via Adobe Stock.

This article originally appeared on the LISC website. Reprinted with permission.

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