Research has documented the often negative impact that the introduction of light rail transit can have on low income renters in central neighborhoods. As neighborhoods or corridors become more compact and connected, they also become desirable and increase in value. As a result, owners of aging rental properties are likely to sell or redevelop their properties. Rents are likely to rise or units may be converted to owner occupancy, and lower income households may be priced out. The changes in these corridors may thus contribute to the growing shortage of affordable rental housing in centrally-located areas. They may also undermine the ability of low income renters to rely on transit to commute to work or to needed services. Transit-dependent households displaced to areas where housing is more affordable will likely face a dramatic increase in their transportation costs—likely at the expense of other critical households needs.
Compounding this challenge is the fact that this aging—but unsubsidized--rental housing constitutes a stock of housing nearly three times the total amount of subsidized housing in the U.S. and typically serves as a city’s largest source of affordable housing. With fast rising land costs and shrinking public resources, replacing this stock 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 must act strategically. With support from a HUD Sustainable Communities Research Grant, and from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, CRP Professor Elizabeth Mueller, Cornell Professor Jennifer Minner, and CRP graduate students Cliff Kaplan, Sara McTarnaghan, Tom Hilde and Marla Torrado, and Cornell graduate student Amanda Micklow, developed a rental housing corridor preservation assessment tool, using replicable methodologies to measure, for each corridor, (1) the access the corridor provides, via transit, to job opportunities; (2) the potential stock of vulnerable rental housing; and, (3) development pressure and timing. This tool is intended to enable jurisdictions to better coordinate investments in infrastructure, transportation systems and affordable housing and align them with corridor plans. It is now available, along with a training manual and prepared datasets, on the website of the open-source scenario planning software suite Envision Tomorrow+.