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Grading federal efforts to promote affordable housing near transit

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The Government Accountability Office has released a report to Congress examining the job the Federal Transit Administration and the Housing and Urban Development agency have done in promoting affordable housing in transit-oriented developments. The conclusion: "Key Practices Could Enhance Recent Collaboration Efforts between DOT-FTA and HUD."

As part of this examination, the GAO reviewed what is know about the effect transit-oriented developments have on the availability of affordable housing. That examination brought GAO researchers to work done by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

In 2005, HUD and FTA made an interagency pact "to assist communities in understanding the potential demand for housing in transit-oriented developments by conducting a research study." CTOD was asked to do the research. In April 2007, CTOD issued its report, "Realizing the Potential: Expanding Housing Opportunities Near Transit," which recommended broad approaches to addressing some key challenges in supporting affordable housing in transit-oriented developments.  The GAO also cited Reconnecting America's study in partnership with the National Housing Trust "Preserving Opportunities: Saving Affordable Homes Near Transit," which found HUD project-based Section 8 contracts for many properties near transit stations will expire in coming years. The loss of those Section 8 contracts, the study found, will significantly affect the availablity of affordable housing near transit.

GAO researchers looked into how local, state and federal agencies have worked to ensure that affordable housing is available in transit-oriented developments and the extent to which HUD and FTA have worked together to ensure that transportation and affordable housing objectives are integrated in transit-oriented developments.

"While HUD has recently issued two competitive task order requests to implement some of the strategies, including identifying regulatory barriers identified in the HUD-FTA action plan, it will still take some time before these strategies can potentially benefit housing and transit agencies," GAO researchers noted.

The GAO pointed out that the original research contract calls for three subsequent policy reports assessing state, federal, and local regulatory barriers to mixed-income housing in transit-oriented developments; financing techniques available for mixed-income housing in transit-oriented developments; and  incentives through HUD and FTA programs. Results won't be published until July 2010. After that, the agencies will still have to identify the regulatory barriers, they need to take additional steps to address those barriers.

Perhaps more important, however, GAO researchers found local housing and transit agencies with whom they met were generally unaware of the collaboration between HUD and FTA. And at HUD regional and field offices and FTA regional offices, the GAO found most officials had not received official copies of the HUD-FTA action plan, were unaware that the action plan was posted on the agencies' Web sites, and most were generally unaware of the plan's strategies.

"DOT, HUD, and FTA have started using some key practices for enhancing and sustaining collaboration, but a more formal approach and other practices could encourage further collaboration," the GAO concluded.

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The GAO report includes a nifty graphic that illustrates the definition of transit-oriented development.

What Is Transit-Oriented Development