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Filling the Financing Gap for Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Lessons from Atlanta, Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Twin Cities

Foreword 

During the past two decades, transit-oriented development (TOD) has emerged as a powerful tool for creating liveable communities near good public transit through the development of dense housing, work places, retail and other community amenities. As demand for liveable communities grows, land values near transit increase, which can sometimes lead to gentrification. Recently, a particular approach to TOD has been gaining greater attention: equitable TOD.

Equitable TOD prioritizes social equity as a key component of TOD implementation. It aims to ensure that all people along a transit corridor, including those who are low income, have the opportunity to reap the benefits of easy access to employment opportunities offering living wages, health clinics, fresh food markets, human services, schools and childcare centers. By developing or preserving affordable housing and encouraging locating jobs near transit, equitable TOD can minimize the burden of housing and transportation costs for low income residents and generate healthier residents, vibrant neighborhoods and strong regional economies.

Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) and the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) were engaged by Living Cities to write this paper identifying ways to make TOD projects that contribute to equitable TOD outcomes easier to finance and build. To this end, we have reviewed existing equitable TOD financing tools, using four regions as examples: Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the San Francisco Bay Area. Our goal is to identify systemic financing gaps, and recommend potential capital and/or policy solutions. The paper also seeks to identify important questions for further discussion and research.

Our research included interviews with several national TOD experts, as well as a wide range of partners in each of the four regions. The interviews spanned the private, public and nonprofit sectors, as well as the specialties of community development, health, environment, transportation, economic development and community organizing. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) supported us by compiling a literature review of the numerous studies that preceded our effort. We also engaged developers and other partners involved in the equitable TOD projects cited throughout this paper, discussing their individual challenges and successes during the development of those projects, and the impacts the projects ultimately are having on the neighborhoods, corridors and regions. We then spent several months synthesizing our findings with the support of the Living Cities TOD Working Group and CTOD.

As with any authors, we came to this effort with our own points of view, and, before describing our methodology and findings, we will share two of our positions:

  • We believe that equitable TOD is a strategy for approaching land use, economic development and community development that requires integration among disciplines that traditionally do not interact in ways that create the desired results. Financing equitable TOD is one of several important components of a strategic approach; others include planning, policy and community engagement. Many regions around the country are collaborating, studying and planning for TOD implementation. Regional visioning, in particular, is a useful organizing principle through which to view this work holistically – as more than simply a single real estate project or a collection of real estate projects. All of these functions are important precursors to the design of useful financial tools.
  • Regions across the country will differ in at least four critical variables that affect equitable TOD:
    1. Strong, moderate or weak economies overall, and economic variability along transit corridors;
    2. Existing level of political will to implement equitable TOD strategies;
    3. Existing level of capacity among stakeholders to sustain an equitable TOD vision and develop functional collaborations; and
    4. Nature of the transit system (e.g., bus rapid transit vs. light rail, frequency and extent of service). These factors dramatically influenced strategy, implementation and TOD outcomes in the respective regions.

We have organized this paper into the following four sections to help make the information more digestible:

First, in the section below, we define the actors and behaviors that we believe lead to successful equitable TOD outcomes. This model serves as a point of comparison to the conditions in the regions we studied, and allows us to comment across a set of defined terms. Next, we discuss a few key equitable TOD system-level findings that we think are important to provide context for our specific comments. Then, we identify key project level challenges and financing gaps and offer recommendations for consideration. Finally, in the conclusion, we offer three suggestions to advance our collective work. Four discrete case studies - one for each region studied - are included in an appendix.