Building a National Equitable TOD Network

April 16, 2015

By John Moon

Local Initiatives Support Corporation published a version of this post 2/12/15.

In just a few short years, the idea of pursuing community development in tandem with transit development has gone from being a novel and ambitious notion to conventional wisdom. What we now call “equitable transit-oriented development,” or ETOD, has evolved remarkably since 2008, when CDFI and transit sector leaders first gathered to explore how to finance such opportunities. But those of us working to make this a widespread reality know there are many challenges to creating smart, sustainable ETOD. This has been an important focus at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where we are trying to make it possible for ETOD to revitalize neighborhoods and increase mobility and access for all residents.

The Challenge

The pace of change is outpacing our response. Private market developers are capitalizing on transit-oriented development (TOD) and have put strong displacement pressure on longtime residents, especially in low- to moderate-income communities that exist along new transit lines. The rate of change in these communities has been breathtaking. Dwindling funding for affordable housing, as with the elimination of the California Redevelopment Agencies, has exacerbated this trend. In many cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston, maintaining the supply of even moderate-income housing is now a challenge.

But despite this, there are bright spots. The city of Portland, for instance, has created a mapping system to identify communities that are at risk of gentrification in order to funnel resources toward preservation. The greater Austin, Texas area is developing an ambitious strategy to create 48,000 affordable housing units for people earning $25,000 or less per year.

Getting the word out. Convincing regional leaders such as elected officials, agency heads and funders/investors to adopt goals around equity is imperative but tricky, especially if they hold opposing political views. One set of effective tools for communicating the benefits of ETOD is data and analysis of ridership and housing market trends. Stephanie Pollack, Massachusetts’s Department of Transportation secretary, explains that such information can bolster the argument that good TOD benefits everyone.

Pollack’s research, in fact, demonstrates that core transit riders are primarily low- to moderate-income residents. Setting goals to ensure these riders have ongoing access to transit can be a compelling argument—one based on demand for transit accessibility—rather than one based on the more general idea of equity. Engaging low- to moderate-income residents is also a critical part of the equitable development strategy. As Scott Spencer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation has pointed out, bringing these commuters to the table is a key step in the process of building consensus among the providers and users of transit.

Looking Ahead

Building new alliances. This pioneering work requires forging new partnerships, especially between institutions and sectors that have little experience working together. Transit agencies, businesses, funders, community-based organizations, and government agencies all have a stake in major urban development projects. It means building a common vision together and creating cultural and institutional bridges such as the Great Communities Collaborative in San Francisco, a network of institutions dedicated to creating an affordable and thriving Bay Area, linked by transit.

Many regions, such as Minneapolis, Boston, Denver and Seattle, have seen how creating a formal multi-sector collaborative can catalyze these working partnerships. These forums also create a “safe place” for participants to shift from a “doing” mentality to a “learning” and “creating” mentality. In fact, these forums are where many transit agencies have come to embrace the view of community, making it possible to envision more complete and sustainable transit neighborhoods.

Share lessons, improve collaboration and push innovation. Finally, practitioners involved in ETOD need a more robust toolbox. They need a means to share data and analysis, and they require greater access to funding and investing models, and more effective ways to engage the community. We also need to help regional and national networks share lessons, improve collaboration and push innovation. The Federal Reserve Banks and our partners—LISC, Enterprise, and the Low Income Investment Fund—want to foster this community and use the principles of ETOD as an effective guide for good, sustainable transit communities. We made a great start at the most recent Rail~Volution conference in the Twin Cities, where many of the above insights emerged at this first-ever national meeting to enhance collaboration across sites.

Despite the daunting challenges and the dizzying pace of change, ETOD leaders have emerged in a very short period of time, from a small group to a national network that is realizing the potential to have a profound impact on the built environment and on the lives of low-income residents.

We invite anyone looking to develop ETOD expertise and interested in being part of the national ETOD network to join us at our second symposium at the 2015 Rail~Volution conference in Dallas, October 25-28.

For more information, please contact John Moon.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.