Strategies to encourage affordable housing near transit


A recent law passed in Washington State aims to create more places for low-income residents to live near transit. (Photo credit: Sound Transit via Flickr)

Public agencies in the Seattle region are working to address a growing crisis of housing affordability while also trying to ensure that a wave of new transit investments don’t just benefit those with higher incomes.

recent law passed in Washington State requires that 80 percent of any surplus land owned by Sound Transit in the Seattle area be offered first to entities constructing affordable housing at 80 percent of area median income or lower. With this law in mind, Sound Transit is considering a no-cost transfer of a half-acre parcel to affordable housing developers with plans for 308 housing units. Another parcel worth around $8.6 million would go toward construction of a senior housing facility with ground floor retail and zero on-site parking. Other parcels are being considered for price reductions.

The idea is to create more places for low-income residents to live near transit, giving them an affordable connection to jobs and other opportunities. But because income from land sales or long-term leases could potentially be used by Sound Transit for more service or capital expansion, some commenters on this particular law worry that scarce transportation dollars are essentially being transformed into housing dollars. On the other side of that argument, lower-income residents near transit are more likely to use the system and bolster fare box revenue, bringing funding into the system a different way.

Either way, this is another strategy for helping affordable housing construction near transit — especially in hot housing markets — pencil out. Another example is the Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) fund, which provides $50 million in financing for affordable housing and other community services. Other documents in the library on this topic discuss how to best fill the financing gap for affordable housing projects including using specialized mechanisms such as the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC).

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