FTA pushes to link transit and affordable housing

By Chris Spahr

In August, New and Small Starts Evaluation and Rating Guidance was released by the Federal Transit Administration. The New and Small Starts Programs are FTA’s primary grant program for funding major capital investments for rapid rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, and ferries.

The new policy guidance fills in some of the details of the Final Rule, which laid the groundwork for the FTA New and Small Starts project evaluation process published in the Federal Register on January 8 of this year. This is notable because the Final Rule and the associated guidance address concerns around affordable housing, which can be threatened by the arrival of new transit corridors.

Studies have shown that investments in transit and associated infrastructure often lead to an increase in property values and taxes that results in gentrification, which reduces the amount of affordable housing available. As part of the new guidance, FTA gives preference to projects that serve transit-dependent persons and evaluates plans and policies based on the tools in place to preserve or increase the amount of affordable housing in the project corridor. Some of the tools that are encouraged include inclusionary zoning and density bonuses for affordable housing as well as financing tools such as local or regional affordable housing trust funds.

According to the guidance, projects that apply for New and Small Starts funding will be evaluated based on the project’s efforts to use these tools to ensure that new transit infrastructure doesn’t diminish transit options for those in most need of the service. It is yet to be seen if FTA will be able to truly evaluate the affordable housing criteria in transit plans and if the implementation of these plans will be successful. However, this is a much-needed push by FTA to spur creativity among stakeholders and advocates attempting to attract transit and ensure a just distribution of transportation options.

Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.