Bill proposes support for housing construction linked to public transit

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(The Center Square) – A bipartisan bill was reintroduced in Congress Thursday to encourage construction of low- and middle-income housing in “walkable” locations near public transit services.

The “Build More Housing Near Transit Act” is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Scott Peters, D-Calif.

Rodgers, from Spokane, said in a press release that it’s “no secret that many cities across America, including Spokane, are facing unprecedented workforce and housing shortages.”

“Our bipartisan bill aims to address these challenges by expanding access to affordable housing near transit centers that will help people live more comfortably in and around the communities where they work,” she said.

As proposed, the act would offer incentives to transit applicants to build more housing along a future transit corridor for projects submitted to the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA’s “New Starts and Core Capacity” program provides capital investment grants for such projects as commuter rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit.

The measure would direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to increase the rating of a project by one point on a five-point scale if an applicant can show evidence of “pro-housing policies” for development in areas within walking distance of accessible transit facilities.

Language in the bill refers to multi-family developments on “substantial publicly-held real property” on which minimum lot sizes and height limits could be reduced or eliminated to create “a substantial number of dwelling units affordable to low-income households.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million rental affordable homes, and 11.3 million Americans spend more than half of their income on housing.

Peters, who represents California’s 50th Congressional District that includes San Diego, said the city is among many communities across the nation which face a growing housing crisis.

“With rising rents people are forced to move far from where they work, increasing their dependency on cars and forcing some people into homelessness,” said Peters.

“Our bill will maximize federal investment in transit and increase housing options for cost-burdened Americans to alleviate these pressures. On top of that, it boosts our efforts to protect the environment by growing transit ridership and getting more cars off the road,” he said.

More than 90 national, state, and local organizations expressed support for the legislation in a Nov. 2 letter to Rodgers, Peters, and U.S. Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who sponsored initial legislation in 2021.

Among the supporting organizations is Up for Growth Action. CEO Mike Kingsella said the proposed Build More Housing Near Transit Act addresses “the critical link between transportation and housing, and will help spur the creation of more walkable, livable and equitable communities.”

If passed, said Kingsella, the legislation “will increase public transportation ridership and encourage the creation of housing that uses less land, taking cars off the road, and enabling more Americans to live closer to their jobs and other opportunities.”

Generally, a transit-oriented development, or TOD, locates moderate and higher-density housing within easy walking distance – defined as about one-quarter mile or a 10-minute walk – from a centrally located transit station or corridor. Well-designed TODs provide safe, attractive access for both pedestrians and bicyclists. They may be linked to public spaces and amenities such as plazas and parks.

In Washington state, several larger local governments have adopted transit-oriented development planning and policies. Among them are Bellevue, Kirkland, SeaTac, Spokane, Sound Transit and Vancouver.

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