Last night we held the latest event in our monthly series, on the intersection between transit policy and housing policy. The goal was to delve into the ways in which (public) transit play into the housing crisis (and solutions to it) and vice versa. As our population grows, both our housing and our transit infrastructure is stretched to the breaking point — how might we address those capacity issues in ways that pay off on both issue areas?
We were joined by four terrific panelists:
- Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director, SPUR
- Ken Kirkey, Planning Director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission
- Joel Ramos, Regional Planning Director, TransForm
- Alan Dones, Managing Partner and CEO, Strategic Urban Development Alliance
Ratna started out by giving us a great overview of the transit landscape in the Bay Area and how it might better serve our changing population. Two facts that stuck in my mind: 70% of jobs in the Bay Area aren’t located within walking distance of a transit stop, and that number hasn’t changed in ten years; and there are almost 30 different transit agencies operating independently in the Bay Area (that doesn’t count private services like Lyft or Chariot). She also helped us define transit-oriented development (TOD), which is any commercial or housing development intentionally located close to a transit stop.
Ken gave us some insight into how transit agencies are uniquely positioned, given their regional mandate, to play a role in solving the housing crisis, which is a regional problem. He told us that no matter what issue the MTC is dealing with housing inevitably comes up as part of the problem. Because of that, MTC is using its convening power to bring together policymakers and advocates from across the housing spectrum to come up with consensus-based solutions to the housing crisis that will work on the regional level. The initiative is called CASA and has just begun a 15-month journey to what will hopefully culminate in more ambitious solutions to the housing crisis.
Joel helped us view the affordability crisis through an equity lens. Lower-income people are disproportionately likely to use public transportation but there hasn’t been sufficient attention paid to making sure that housing developments built near transit include enough affordable units. BART has recently made a commitment to creating 20,000 units of housing in transit-oriented development projects on their land, with a goal of 35% of those units being affordable. They’re finding it difficult, though, to make the financing work and realistically (because of requirements for local matching dollars) this kind of development is only feasible in two of the four counties that BART serves.
Alan brought a developer’s view to the panel. His company is developing the West Oakland BART station which will include one million square feet of commercial space and hundreds of housing units. Alan is one of the only African-American developers in Oakland and spoke about the need to take into account the history of social injustice that has played out in West Oakland over the past several decades, including (ironically) through transit development such as the 980 freeway and the raised BART tracks which create pollution and blight. As he plans for the development of the area around the West Oakland BART station, the only station that serves all four BART lines, he has equity at the front of his mind. How can the community be engaged in the planning? How do we ensure that longtime West Oakland residents can reap the rewards of this new investment rather than being displaced by it?
The conversation was wide ranging, from the history of transit development in the region, to comparisons to other cities, to future technology that might change the whole game (what happens when we’re commuting to LA via Hyperloop?). But it was apparent that, in the short term, transit agencies are going to play a big role in solving the affordability crisis. One topic we spent a lot of time on was the jurisdictional control of BART-owned land. Despite the fact that BART owns 230 acres of land near its stations, any development on that land still needs to go through local approval processes. And BART is still incentivized to look for development that will reap the highest return (which is often commercial property or market-rate housing). Are there legislative solutions that will make it easier and cheaper to build near transit stations? This is something we’re definitely planning to explore as we develop our legislative advocacy agenda for 2018. Stay tuned…
The discussion ended on a hopeful note. The panelists talked about what they were excited about and it was clear there’s lots to be optimistic about, including new technological solutions (autonomous buses anyone?) that will make our transit systems more responsive to our changing population. But more than that, our panelists — who have all been at this for a while — we’re hopeful about the changing political climate that suddenly creates opportunities to get things done that were previously impossible (there are affordable housing advocates in Marin! Who knew!). At TechEquity we’re hoping to bring Tech’s civic power to that table to help advance the solutions that will make this region a place where everyone can afford to live.