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The Impact of Transportation on Access to Affordable Housing

Rajiv Desai | June 8, 2023

4 Minute Read

impact of transportation on affordable housing - image of a woman on a bus

Effective affordable housing is about more than just the cost of rent. Consider the impact of transportation: it shapes access to jobs, public spaces, and essential goods and services. Limited transportation options can challenge low-income households, increasing their overall expenses and reducing the benefits of affordable housing.

Your place of residence affects how easy or difficult it is to get to your job, your children’s school, the grocery store, employment centers, and more. Additional transportation costs and time scarcity combine to drive up the cost of living, all while reducing opportunities for income.

So how exactly does transportation affect affordable housing efforts, and how can housing agencies better address these issues? Let’s dig in.

The Domino Effect: How Transportation Influences Affordable Housing Access

Limited transportation options can create a domino effect, leading to a variety of consequences for residents seeking affordable housing. If left unchecked, this can exacerbate income inequalities in your city, increasing homelessness and putting additional strain on government resources. The problem starts with issues such as:

Isolation of Low-Income Households

In many cases, affordable housing developments are built on the outskirts of cities, where land is less expensive. However, these locations often have limited access to public transit, forcing residents to rely on personal vehicles.

This is particularly challenging for the 18% of households earning less than $35,000 that do not own a car. As a result, these households may become isolated from job opportunities, essential services, and social networks.

Increased Transportation Costs

Living in areas with limited transportation options can lead to higher transportation costs. Households in car-dependent neighborhoods spend up to 25% of their income on transportation, compared to just 9% in more walkable neighborhoods with more transit options.  

Transportation costs, which include expenses related to car ownership, maintenance, insurance, and public transit, also affect a household's overall affordability. Transportation is the second-largest annual expenditure for most households after housing, according to HUD. These added expenses can negate the cost savings of living in more affordable areas.

Reduced Job Opportunities

Longer commutes can limit access to job opportunities, particularly for low-income households. In many cases, public transit service is limited or nonexistent in suburban and exurban areas, making it difficult for residents without cars to access employment centers. Traveling longer distances for work can also increase the costs of childcare for young families, who now need to spend more time away from home, reducing their net income beyond their commuting expenses.

Learn how Los Angeles Country launched a preservation database to preserve at-risk affordable housing units: read the project profile.

Solutions for Incorporating Transportation in Affordable Housing Plans

To address the challenges of transportation and affordable housing access, several strategies can be employed:

1. Develop Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing

Transit-oriented development (TOD) involves creating mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods centered around public transit stations. By prioritizing affordable housing within TODs, residents can benefit from reduced transportation costs and improved access to jobs and essential services.

For instance, Austin's Project Connect expansion plan includes transit-oriented development (TOD) for 21 stations, with a focus on affordable housing. The city collaborates with community organizations to identify those at the highest risk of displacement and involves historically underrepresented groups in the decision-making process, ensuring more equitable development outcomes.

2. Improve Existing Public Transit Networks

Enhancing public transit options in areas with affordable housing can help residents save on transportation costs and expand job opportunities. This can involve expanding bus and rail services, adjusting routes and schedules to better serve low-income communities, and investing in infrastructure improvements such as bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets.

Example: Salt Lake City's TRAX light rail system has expanded to connect affordable housing developments with job centers and essential services.

3. Encourage Mixed-Income Communities

Promoting mixed-income neighborhoods can help ensure that affordable housing is available in areas with good transportation options. By integrating affordable housing into higher-income areas, low-income households can benefit from better access to job opportunities, services, and amenities.

Example: Inclusionary zoning policies in cities like San Francisco and New York City require developers to include a percentage of affordable units in new residential developments, helping to create mixed-income communities with better transportation options.

4. Secure Funding and Support for Transportation and Housing Initiatives

Local governments can seek federal and state funding to support transportation and housing projects that improve connectivity. For instance, the federal government announces programs such as the recent Thriving Communities Program, which aims in part to “expand affordable transportation options, connecting communities to the essential opportunities and resources that will help them thrive/”

Additionally, leveraging public-private partnerships can help secure resources for the development of affordable housing and transportation infrastructure.

5. Leverage Software to Improve Transportation Options

The right affordable housing software can help your city or county more easily factor in transportation options, from choosing housing project locations to prioritizing housing preservation efforts. 

You can look for features like these to help you factor in the impact of transportation in your affordable housing program.

  • Rental Registry: Maintain an up-to-date inventory of rental units to prioritize housing investments in areas with better public transportation access.
  • Rent Stabilization: Manage rent regulation programs and monitor changes in rental prices in transit-rich neighborhoods. This data can be used to inform policies that prevent displacement of low-income households, ensuring they maintain access to public transportation while enjoying stable and affordable housing costs.
  • Eviction Management: New transportation options can drive up rent in a neighborhood, tempting landlords to seek higher-paying tenants. Use eviction management tools to track evictions and identify patterns to inform policies that protect vulnerable residents and promote equitable transportation access.
  • Preservation Database: Integrate with transportation data to identify areas where preserving or expanding affordable housing would have the most significant impact on transportation access.

With comprehensive reporting tools and the ability to collaborate with stakeholders, the right affordable housing software connects local transit authority, policymakers, city planners, and housing developers, providing greater visibility across any project. This enables more informed planning, keeping residents connected to the services they need.  

Take LA County for instance. The Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) collaborated with 3Di to develop a user-friendly database for affordable housing projects. This easy-to-use system helped track funding, visualize project locations, and share information between various stakeholders.  

Systems like these can integrate with different data sources and allow for better coordination between housing and transportation planning, ultimately benefiting both residents and decision-makers.

By equipping ourselves to handle the complex dynamic between transportation and housing, we can start creating more connected, equitable, and thriving communities for all.

Of course, making housing truly affordable is a complex task, which often requires creative solutions. When Los Angeles county saw thousands of affordable housing units were at risk within the decade, they decide to implement a solution. Learn what LA County did next.