Denver Conference Focuses on Affordable Housing Near Urban Transit

Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Denver–The relationship between expanding mass transit and the preservation of affordable multifamily housing was the subject of meeting of about 200 federal, state and local officials in Denver this week. The conference, formally called “Partners in Innovation: Preserving Rental Housing Near Transit,” was the last of three regional events on the topic this year sponsored by the National Housing Conference (NHC) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“Now more than ever, a robust stock of affordable rental homes is essential to maintaining a healthy housing market, and can also play a pivotal role in helping communities achieve their larger goals like reducing vehicle miles traveled,” NHC president and CEO Maureen Friar said at the opening of the conference. “This forum is intended to help attendees take these ideas to scale by providing tailored information and targeted tools necessary to connect rental preservation and transit development initiatives.”

The issue has attracted the attention of public and nonprofit officials recently as studies indicate that transit-oriented development can have a deleterious impact on a city’s stock of affordable housing. According to a report published last year by AARP, Reconnecting America and the National Housing Trust, by 2014 as many as 160,000 renters in 20 metro areas could lose their affordable apartments near transit.

The reason for that is because the contracts on the renters’ privately owned but HUD-subsidized rental units are due to expire. The renewed popularity of urban living means that properties in walkable neighborhoods near transit have increased in value, and so property owners are likely to opt out of the HUD program and convert the housing from affordable to market rate.

During the Denver conference, National Housing Trust president Michael Bodaken and Melinda Pollack, a senior program director for Enterprise Community Partners, presented the findings of their new joint report with Reconnecting America that expand on the subject of affordable housing loss near transit. Highlighting case studies from Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, and Washington, DC, their report identifies several trends—including the need for more cross-silo collaboration—with national implications for preserving rental affordability near transit.

Also, James Corless, director of Transportation for America, urged participants to think creatively about partnering across departments and agencies to create and preserve a range of affordable housing, including rental, in transit-accessible neighborhoods. Other speakers at the conference included Commissioner Dan Bartholomay of the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority; Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology; Cynthia Cody of the U.S. EPA; Aaron Miripol of the Urban Land Conservancy; Rob Richardson of the National Housing Trust; and Tasha Weaver of the Colorado Housing Finance Agency.

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