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FTA recognizes need to coordinate transit investments and affordable housing policy

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

This week, NHC loses a gifted and hardworking policy associate, Clare Duncan. Clare isn’t moving too far away in her new job at Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, and as her new organization is both an NHC member and extremely active in the affordable housing world, we’ll get to see plenty of her. Still, we’ll be sad to see her go.

Clare did leave us with a parting gift, though. During the last week of Clare’s tenure, we learned of the success of a major effort that she, others at NHC/CHP and the broader housing community have worked very hard on over the past two years to strengthen the coordination of housing and transportation policy.

Yesterday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published a proposed rule for the New Starts / Small Starts programs that funds new transit lines and major extensions of existing lines. This includes subway, commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, etc. The proposed rule reflects input on an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in June 2010 asking for feedback on how to improve the New Starts / Small Starts program. Through the housing and transportation working group, NHC worked to develop comments on the advanced notice and jointly submitted comments with Enterprise Community Partners and Habitat for Humanity International. The comment letter was accompanied by visits to the Department of Transportation and HUD to discuss the issue, as well as a subsequent regulatory response that Clare prepared together with Enterprise. Many other NHC members and other organizations also contributed to the cause, submitting their own comments on the importance of coordinating housing and transportation policy in the New Starts process.

In yesterday’s announcement, FTA accepted the basic premise advanced in the NHC/Enterprise/Habitat comment and by the housing community more broadly that the New Starts allocation process should be modified to create incentives to preserve existing affordable housing near planned transit stations and to ensure that a share of newly developed housing in those areas is affordable to low- and moderate-income families. FTA also agreed with the argument that the locations of publicly supported affordable housing should be considered in planning the routing for new transit lines.

This represents a major shift in federal policy that if ultimately adopted and implemented appropriately could have a major lasting impact in ensuring that families of all incomes can afford to live near newly developed transit stations. We are proud of the role that NHC and CHP played in advancing this issue and congratulate all of the organizations in the housing and transportation communities that worked together to achieve this outcome.

A proposed rule is just that—proposed. There’s much to be done to consolidate this victory and ensure that the final rule adopts the proposed policy and the final guidance implements in robustly and effectively. Among other steps, we plan to reach out to the transportation community to strengthen our mutual understanding of the issues we both face and the benefits of collaboration. In the meantime, we’re pleased to announce the progress to date and look forward to working with everyone on next steps.

If you’re interested, take a look at the proposed regulations. If you search for the word “housing,” and skim those passages, you’ll catch the general tenor.

Please join the conversation in the comments section below and let us know what you think about this rule and how you think we can continue to strengthen housing and transportation policy.

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