Federal transit funding could be tied to housing production if this bill passes


America has a shortage of 7.2 million affordable homes, and 8.1 million Americans spend more than half of their income on housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Aerial view of a city

America has a shortage of 7.2 million affordable homes, and 8.1 million Americans spend more than half of their income on housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Within Texas, the affordable housing shortage is more severe with 29 affordable homes available for every 100 renters, while the national rate is 37 homes.

To mitigate the affordable housing shortages experienced throughout America, Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., proposed the Build More Housing Near Transit Act, legislation that would change the criteria for the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which provides funds to transit projects like commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit through the Capital Investment Grants Program.

Currently, the Federal Transit Administration doles out more than $2 billion to help transit in America and the New Starts program gives grants for projects that cost more than $300 million in total. Currently, the grants require projects to prove they will improve mobility, reduce congestion, and produce environmental and economic benefits. If Rep. Peters' bill is passed, housing would be added to the list of requirements in order to receive the federal grant.

"Those central transit funds from the FTA are kind of the lifeblood that almost every transit agency leverages against," said Kyle Shelton, Deputy Director of the Kinder Institute and author of "Power Moves: Transportation, Politics, and Development in Houston." "The federal government is thinking about how to make their investments more efficient and we should be putting housing next to transit."

Having housing next to transit is especially important for America's lower-income population, who typically rely on transportation more than wealthier Americans. "Whatever housing development we're doing, the goal should be to get it as accessible as possible," Shelton said. "Let's not put our affordable housing developments out in the middle of nowhere where there is no bus service."

"The biggest thing is we're making billions of dollars in investment in transit and we're making billions of dollars in investment in housing, but we rarely tie them together in any concrete way, which is insane," he said. "Why spend any amount of money on any transit or any highway without thinking about the other pieces that you're incentivizing to go around it, like housing?"

In a press release, Rep. Peters said Americans are having to move further from their jobs in order to find affordable housing, which increases their commute times and decreases their quality of life. "Our bill will maximize federal investment in transit and increase housing options for families across the country. On top of that, we can protect our environment by increasing transit ridership and getting more cars off the road,” said Rep. Peters.

“The United States is in a housing affordability crisis," said Kurt Christiansen, President of the American Planning Association. "This act is the type of innovative policy that will help the country meet its transportation infrastructure, housing affordability, and environmental policy goals. By encouraging early coordination of land use and transportation, this legislation will help drive too-scarce federal transit funding into projects that will provide maximum local and regional benefits."

The Build More Transit Near Housing Act is endorsed by the American Planning Association, Circulate San Diego, Enterprise Community Partners, Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Advisory Group, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Apartment Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Housing Trust, the National Leased Housing Association, the National Multifamily Housing Council, Prosperity Now, the Regional Plan Association, and Up for Growth Action.

Heather Leighton
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