Transit equity has a housing component

Subsidized, affordable housing needed near the T

ACCESS TO GOOD TRANSPORTATION is the cornerstone of a strong, thriving community. Municipal planners encourage this kind of smart growth which, in addition to combating urban sprawl, stimulates community reinvestment and brings vibrancy to neighborhoods. Market-rate real estate developers see the value in locating residential and mixed-use developments near transit.  Neighborhoods where residents are close to public transportation options are places where people have better economic opportunities.  For that reason, community organizations have spent years advocating for transit equity and working to expand transportation options in low-income and underserved communities throughout the Commonwealth.

Transit equity, along with workforce development and affordable housing, has become a critical part of community development. Strong communities are ones where residents have good options for work, housing, and child care.  The availability of transportation increases economic opportunity in low-income and underserved communities by widening access to good-paying jobs and making getting to and from work easier. Expanding transportation options, however, brings with it a number of risks, with gentrification pressure and displacement foremost among them.  New commuter rail stations and T stops often lead to new investment in a neighborhood, which increases the property values of homeowners but can also lead to the displacement of long-time residents as rents and housing costs rise.

New transit-oriented housing developments, unless they are subsidized, end up being market-rate, and often high priced relative to the surrounding neighborhood. Low-income residents usually are unable to afford living in these developments, even though they would benefit greatly from access to transportation options. For advocates seeking to bring more transit and economic opportunities to low-income communities, expanding transportation options without also developing affordable housing would be very much like winning the battle but losing the war.

While the kind of change we often see in gentrifying neighborhoods cannot be prevented, there are ways to mitigate the negative impacts and insure that everyone benefits from transit investments.  Massachusetts has one of the strongest systems for producing affordable housing in the country.  So it makes sense to apply our model to transit-oriented development opportunities to prevent and offset displacement in low-income communities.  225 Centre and Jackson Commons in Boston’s Jackson Square are successful examples of transit-oriented development focused on developing mixed income sites — and we need more.

To help encourage more transit-oriented affordable housing, LISC Boston, The Boston Foundation, and the Hyams Foundation created The Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Accelerator Fund with funding assistance from MassDevelopment.  This new fund provides developers with streamlined access to acquisition and predevelopment capital that can be used to acquire and develop affordable housing along transit corridors.  The fund provides low-cost financing that can go up to 120 percent loan-to-value to cover predevelopment expenses and holding costs.

Earlier this year, the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC), which provides early stage capital to nonprofit, community-based affordable housing developers, entered into an agreement with LISC Boston to provide early financing for transit oriented development projects. Thus far, the partnership has funded two projects currently in development.  In Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, CEDAC and LISC Boston provided nearly $1 million to Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation and its partner, Traggorth Companies LLC, to build The Residences at Fairmount Station.  The project will redevelop a distressed property immediately adjacent to the Fairmount MBTA commuter rail stop along the Fairmount/Indigo Line into a mixed-income building consisting of 27 new apartments.

Similarly, Harborlight Community Partners recently received more than $500,000 from CEDAC to acquire a 1.3 acre site in Rockport to develop Granite Street Crossing.  HCP plans to construct three new residences consisting of 17 studios for seniors and 6 additional units for low-income families. The mixed-income development will be located only a quarter of a mile from the Rockport MBTA commuter rail station and retail amenities. This commitment also utilized LISC Boston’s Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Accelerator Fund.

We are fortunate here in Massachusetts to have a strong network of knowledgeable and experienced affordable housing developers across the state and a well-regarded financing system that housing developers can access to create and preserve quality affordable housing.  Utilizing that system to encourage affordable transit-oriented development is sensible policy.

Meet the Author

Roger Herzog

Executive director, Community Development Assistance Corporation
Meet the Author

It’s clear that the Commonwealth is committed to building stronger communities and it’s encouraging to see new public transportation options become available in communities that need them.  The development of more affordable housing near transit, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods, is a key way to ensure that redevelopment in these neighborhoods is fair and equitable.

Roger Herzog is the executive director of the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) and Bob Van Meter is the executive director of Boston LISC.