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 a year-long Practicum course run by Elizabeth Mueller, community and regional planning graduate students are studying conditions in two corridors in Austin: Burnet Road and East Riverside. In the fall of 2014, the class:
- reviewed the relationship between housing and transportation planning in Austin, and identified four distinct corridor and TOD planning processes, only one of which includes the city’s housing department;
- developed a metric for assessing corridors on the presence of core transit riders, based on eTOD metrics in use in other cities;
- reviewed metrics for predicting redevelopment of aging rental housing; and,
- developed a typology of aging multifamily properties, based on building conditions and characteristics, and ownership.
In the spring of 2015, the class investigated:
- strategies for partnering the city with current owners to renovate and preserve existing rental housing as affordable housing, integrating housing and energy efficiency incentives and financial tools;
- strategies for timely acquisition of aging properties for upgrades and preservation as affordable housing; and,
- how adjustments to parking and other site regulations might enable urban design improvements, using case studies.