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Maintaining Diversity In America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change

More than 3,000 transit-rich neighborhoods (TRNs) in U.S. metropolitan areas have fixed-guideway transit stations and hundreds more such neighborhoods could be created over the next decade if current plans for new transit systems and stations are realized. Americans are increasingly using transit and showing more interest in living in transit-rich neighborhoods. For neighborhood and equity advocates from Atlanta to Seattle and Minneapolis to Houston, however, this good news is tempered by a growing concern about gentrification and displacement. Will current neighborhood residents, many of them low income and/or
people of color, benefit from planned transit stations? Or will they be displaced by wealthier and less diverse residents lured not only by transit but also by the other amenities that come with transit-induced neighborhood revitalization?

Planners and policymakers would appear to face a Hobson’s choice if transit investment and expansion inevitably lead to gentrification and displacement: either make the transit investment and accept loss of neighborhood diversity as collateral damage, or avoid transit expansion projects serving diverse, lower-income neighborhoods and leave those residents with poor public transit or none at all.

This report is based on research that was designed to address this dilemma. We wanted to understand whether gentrification and displacement are actually occurring in transit-rich neighborhoods. To the extent that undesirable patterns of neighborhood change were found, we also wanted to understand the underlying mechanisms in order to propose policy tools that could be used to shape equitable neighborhood change in both old and new TRNs.

Our research found that transit investment frequently changes the surrounding neighborhood. While patterns of neighborhood change vary, the most  predominant pattern is one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common. And in some of the newly transitrich neighborhoods, the research reveals how a new transit station can set in motion a cycle of unintended  consequences in which core transit users—such as renters and low income households—are priced out in favor of higher-income, carowning residents who are less likely to use public transit for commuting. We believe that the risk that transit investment could catalyze undesirable neighborhood change is substantial
enough that it needs to be managed whenever transit investments or improvements are being planned. We therefore present a toolkit of policy tools for shaping equitable neighborhood change in TRNs, tools that are increasingly available and in use across the country.