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Equitable transit-oriented development

What is it?

Transit oriented development (TOD) is a planning and design approach that seeks to create compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods around new or existing public transit stations. Many transit advocates, planners, community-based developers, and others have embraced TOD as a strategy to create more vibrant and connected neighborhoods, increase transit ridership, expand opportunity, and reduce the greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change. However, the high demand for housing adjacent to transit can make TOD homes inaccessible to people with lower incomes, while the  rapid appreciation sparked by new transit investments can lead to gentrification and displacement, countering equity goals.

Equitable transit oriented development (eTOD) refers to TOD efforts that are undertaken with an explicit commitment to achieve equity goals through dedicated strategies that ensure low-income residents and residents of color benefit from – and are not displaced by – the new development. With strategies in place to preserve and expand affordable housing, protect tenants from rising costs and displacement, connect residents to jobs and economic opportunities, stabilize and support small and local businesses, and more, eTOD can foster equitable development, creating healthy, opportunity-rich neighborhoods.

To effect equitable outcomes, transit-oriented development must be pursued with equitable processes. Local residents and community-based organizations should be meaningfully engaged beginning with the initial planning phases alongside developers, business owners, transit agencies, local governments, and funders. Where new transit stations are planned in proximity to existing affordable housing, strong tenant protection policies must be integrated into eTOD.

In addition to the resources listed on the right, see Enterprise, SPARCC, CNT, and How Housing Matters for more information about equitable transit-oriented development.

Who implements it?

  • Elected and appointed city officials can make public participation an integral part of the planning process, prioritize investments in eTOD projects, require local/targeted hiring and affordable housing, make ongoing investments in transit improvement, and support "last-mile" infrastructure that allows for efficient and effective connections between transit and home for residents (including safe bike lanes),
  • Business leaders can support investments in eTOD projects, agree to local/targeted hiring and other equitable development goals, support policies such as inclusionary zoning, and help secure funding for public participation and outreach.
  • Community-based organizations and other advocates can help organize and mobilize communities to participate in planning processes, advocate for strong community benefits and protections in new developments, and help to secure and manage private investment funds for eTOD.
  • Community development corporations can play a key role in both the planning and the implementation of equitable transit-oriented development around existing and new transit stations.

Key considerations

The most robust eTOD policies include local/targeted hiring and affordable housing goals, meaningful public participation in planning and design, continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure goals are not unkept promises, and investment in high quality, affordable transit that meets the needs of low-income communities and people of color and the ridership goals of local transit agencies.

  • Centering racial equity targets: Equity outcomes should be defined and measured throughout the development process in line with the goals of the project (e.g., offering affordable and mixed-income housing or creating a new job center serving the surrounding area). Metrics could include disaggregated data on homeownership, housing cost burden, job access, and entrepreneurship growth.
  • Coordination of multiple government agencies: with different jurisdictions and constituencies: TOD is complex; eTOD even more so. Investments and regulatory cooperation often involve several different layers of government (local, regional, state, and federal) as well as private actors (banks, developers, advocates, and residents).
  • Land acquisition: Land owned by the city (or a municipal or regional transit agency) may be available for eTOD projects, as well as privately owned parcels that development partners may be able to acquire, depending on the funding streams available.
  • Financing and costs: Equitable transit-oriented development can draw both public and private investments. Potential public funding sources may come from local, regional, state, and federal resources may be available, including for the purposes of renovating transit stations and improving the surrounding infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, parks, and so on).
  • Meaningful public participation and environmental considerations: Environmental impact assessments and inclusive planning/public participation processes can take time, but short-cutting these processes not only undermines public confidence but can result in expensive legal complications for developers and local governments. Public engagement is essential to ensure equitable design standards for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.
  • Zoning codes: Transit-oriented development may require zoning rule changes to allow for higher densities, mixed uses, and lower parking ratios. In some cities, state law may need to be amended to allow localities to zone accordingly.
  • Ensuring community benefits: Equitable transit-oriented developments can present a powerful opportunity for community coalitions to negotiate community benefits agreements that include strong equity provisions around local and targeted hiring, equitable contracting and procurement, and potentially establishing a housing trust fund.
  • Need for monitoring and accountability structures: Advocates and city governments should work together to define monitoring and accountability standards for equity targets and other project goals.  

Where is it working?

Strong eTOD planning brings together local government planning, transit agency station siting and infrastructure planning, zoning ordinances, financing policies from regional transportation agencies, land use planning, and public investment. It requires coordination and collaboration across multiple jurisdictions.

  • In the San Francisco Bay region, the Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (BART) has comprehensive TOD Guidelines that include a specific affordable housing policy. These guidelines require that any construction bid response for residential units include priorities for very low income (<50% AMI) and low income (50-80% AMI) residents. BART's TOD Guidelines also includes policies for station access and performance measures for public accountability; the agency aims to produce 7,000 affordable housing units on BART property by 2040 and 35/% overall affordability within its portfolio. The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transit Commission, the regional planning agency for transit funding, created the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund in 2011 with a $10 million commitment to seed a $50 million revolving loan fund in support of affordable housing at TOD projects throughout the region. And under the state's Density Bonus Law (Section 65915 of the California Government Code), the City and County of San Francisco amended its zoning ordinance, allowing developers in TOD zones to get up to a 35% density bonus over what is otherwise allowable under local zoning.