How Equitable TODs Would Improve Urban Environments

Enterprise Community Partners claims that to make urban environments stronger, low- and moderate-income residents need equitable transit-oriented developments.

Columbia, Md.—A new report by Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing developer, argues that an important part of facilitating stronger urban environments—places that serve the needs of low- and moderate-income residents—is “equitable transit-oriented development,” which it calls eTOD. The report characterizes eTOD as compact, often mixed-use development with multi-modal access to jobs, neighborhood-serving stores and other amenities. The preservation and creation of dedicated affordable housing is a primary goal of eTOD.

Achieving eTOD, however, isn’t easy, the report noted. That’s because it’s often difficult for planning agencies, local governments, transit agencies, housing organizations, private developers and other institutions that influence development to act in concert to overcome barriers to eTOD. Each stakeholder has disparate goals and compliance burdens, and must comply with complex and sometimes contradictory rules and regulations. As the public resources that support transportation and infrastructure networks and housing affordability remain threatened, however, such efficient coordination is an especially important goal, the report asserted.

The report also noted that eTOD requires proactive strategies and specific tools to preserve and create affordable housing opportunities. It cited a number of promising solutions for addressing the most commonly faced barriers to eTOD:

  • Adopt proactive, collaborative strategies to support eTOD to overcome jurisdiction- and sector-based fragmentation.
  • Take early action to reform plans, codes and policies that influence station area development to remove regulatory deterrents to and create incentives for eTOD.
  • Expand access to capital with eTOD-appropriate terms and conditions to overcome financial barriers to planning, preservation and development.
  • Enhance site-access and improve site viability to counter market conditions that reduce the likelihood of eTOD

For the purpose of the report, “low-income” and “moderate-income” didn’t refer to specific income thresholds, since the definition for these terms can vary by jurisdiction and government program. For instance, some U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs define low-income as households earning no more than 80 percent of area median income (AMI), while the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program targets households at or below 60 percent of AMI. Various state and local standards are also set, in some cases reaching 120 percent of AMI for homeownership programs.

In the context of eTOD, the target population for any intervention will depend on the specific needs of that community, according to the report. On the other hand, the report does define affordable housing as that for which the full cost of shelter (rent or mortgage payments, plus taxes, insurance and utilities) is no more than 30 percent of household income.
The report is formally called “Promoting Opportunity through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Barrier sand Best Practices for Implementation,” and was written by John K. Hersey, Enterprise TOD Initiative’s program officer, and Michael A. Spotts, a senior analyst, project manager for Enterprise Community Partners.