Current Projects

Elizabeth Mueller

Green and Inclusive Corridors Project--corridor housing preservation tool

Preservation and rehabilitation of unsubsidized affordable rental housing on core transit corridors
Research Assistants:  Cliff Kaplan and Sara McTarnaghan

The challenge:
Many cities are attempting to foster new development or reshape existing urban form to support greater use of transit and non-motorized modes of travel. Recent research has documented the often negative impact that the introduction of light rail transit can have on low income renters in central neighborhoods.  As property values rise in transit corridors, owners of aging rental properties are likely to sell or redevelop their properties. Rents in these properties are likely to rise or units may be converted to owner occupancy. Thus, lower income households may be priced out of transit corridor redevelopment. The changes in these corridors may thus contribute to the growing shortage of affordable rental housing. They may also undermine the ability of low income renters to rely on transit to commute to work or to needed services. Displaced transit dependent households will likely face a dramatic increase in their transportation costs—most likely at the expense of other critical households needs.
 
Compounding this challenge is the fact that this aging—but unsubsidized--rental housing typically serves as a city’s largest source of affordable housing. With fast rising land costs and shrinking public resources, replacing it with newly constructed affordable housing would take years and likely not replicate the transit access of the current stock. In contrast, rehabilitation of existing housing typically costs one-half to two-thirds as much as new construction and ensures ongoing access to transit networks.

In this context, cities need to act strategically.  The research conducted under this grant is aimed at development of replicable methodologies for 1) identifying zones where (unsubsidized) affordable rental housing is likely to be redeveloped, as planning initiatives intersect with market trends, 2)  prioritizing among such zones, and 3) selecting particular housing types to invest in and preserve as affordable housing.  These tools will enable jurisdictions to better coordinate investments in infrastructure, transportation systems and affordable housing and will promote the preservation of quality, equitable affordable housing by developing benchmarks for green building retrofitting practices.  We are using Austin as a testbed for this research: the bulk of the city’s existing MF stock was built during the apartment construction boom of the 1970s and 1980s and is likely to be similar to stock elsewhere in the sunbelt.

In the first phase of this research, we developed metrics for assessing corridors on three dimensions: 1) access to low wage jobs via transit; 2) potential loss of affordable apartments; and 3) current development pressure.  We identified and compared eight corridor neighborhoods in Austin using these metrics.

In the second phase, we refined the Corridor Housing Preservation Tool. It is now available for use through the website of the open-source scenario planning software Envision Tomorrow+. The website also provides access to a downloadable training manual and key datasets needed to run the analysis.

In addition to our analysis and comparison of eight key corridors in Austin, we have extended our analysis to Denver.
 

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the fashionaire apartments
The fashionaire apartments, in the Burnet Road corridor, have been recently renovated.

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map of transit corridors and aging rental housing
In Austin, corridors designated for increased density to support transit use are home to many aging apartment complexes.