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. Specifically, low income households are often priced out of transit corridors by redevelopment. Displaced transit-dependent households sometimes face dramatic increases in their transportation costs—most likely at the expense of other critical households needs.
Compounding this challenge is the fact that the aging—but unsubsidized—rental housing stock typically serves as a city’s largest source of affordable housing. With fast rising land costs and shrinking public resources, replacing the affordable rental housing 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 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. We are using Austin as a testbed for this research: the bulk of the city’s existing multi-family 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.
Phase I Findings:
Corridors and Rental Housing Preservation in Austin
We compared eight Austin corridors using measures capturing the 1) benefit of the location to low wage workers; 2) potential for loss of affordable rental units, and 3) current development pressure. These corridors were chosen because they include many aging rental properties.
Our analysis reveals the variation in conditions across corridors. The two corridors with the lowest development pressure—Crestview and East Riverside—have large stocks of affordable rental housing and provide good access to low wage jobs via transit. Of the two, Crestview scores higher on job access, while Riverside contains almost twice as many affordable apartments. These two corridors likely offer the most cost effective preservation opportunities.