Does new transit actually cause displacement?


Passengers waiting for the Blue Line in Charlotte, NC. (Image: Mark Clifton, Flickr)

New research out of the University of North Carolina (UNC) is calling into question the widespread assumption that newly constructed transit lines cause the displacement of low-income residents near stations. While new transit may cause some displacement, researchers have found little evidence to support the claim that it’s the norm.

The researchers—Dr. Elizabeth Delmelle, Dr. Isabelle Nilsson, Dr. Claire Schuch, and Tonderai Mushipe—have been working for two years using a national dataset of residential moves from 1970 to 2013 to determine how much displacement has occurred near transit stations. They found that while displacement happens, it hasn’t been the norm as new train stations don’t seem to have a statistically significant effect on moves. Low-income residents are more likely to rent and move generally, regardless of location.

But in Charlotte the story is a bit more complicated. Most of the land that hosts the thousands of new housing units along the blue line was industrial or vacant meaning that new development hasn’t caused direct displacement. And the neighborhoods that saw the most growth were already attracting young professionals before the line was completed meaning much of the indirect displacement might have occurred even without the blue line.

FTA and Smart Growth America research from 2018 found much the same. In analyses of the housing markets in parts of Charlotte and Tacoma that were poised for new streetcar stations, rents and housing costs were expected to rise with or without new transit. While the introduction of new transit was found to increase values, the majority of anticipated rent increases would come regardless. Recognizing the value increase to be generated by transit creates the possibility to leverage it to maintain affordability and avert displacement.

The UNC researchers also found that change is not equal among income groups. When residents moved after a transit station arrived, higher-income earners were more likely to move to even higher-income areas, likely because of their ability to capitalize on price changes. “The important takeaway from this part of the analysis is that this benefit is not shared equally across all income groups.” (Dr. Delmelle, UNC Charlotte)

The entire qualitative and quantitative research for the project will be completed in 2020, after more interviews, focus groups, and analysis of additional indicators for a deeper understanding of rail’s effects on neighborhoods. For more information about previous research on neighborhood change, check out the to find articles such as Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit Rich Neighborhoods, and Oriented Toward Equity: A Rating System for Equitable TOD.

What’s new on the pod?

“If other cities are weighing BRT or nothing, or they can’t get light rail, I don’t think BRT is something that they should discount.” That’s Maritza Pechin, a planner working with the city of Richmond, VA on this month’s episode of Building Better Communities with Transit. Richmond recently launched a high-quality bus rapid transit line and a bus network redesign that is bringing people back to transit in this rapidly growing mid-size city. Beyond BRT, Maritza discusses the city’s efforts around parking, active transportation, affordable housing, long-rang planning, and much, much more. Catch this episode on Soundcloud, Stitcher, iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.

  • Connecticut state officials want way more parking near main train station, locals want housing (Streetsblog USA)
  • Berkeley plans for a TOD future (Next City)
  • California bill to add housing near transit is shelved…for now (Los Angeles Times)
  • Seattle and the dream of a car-free city (Politico)