New Bill Aims to Connect Federal Transit Dollars to New Housing Opportunities

America faces an affordable housing crisis that impacts large and small communities in urban, suburban and rural regions. It threatens renters and homebuyers, preventing the former from considering becoming the latter. To be sure, the housing crisis comes in different forms—affordability, housing quality and access to credit, among others. Our housing shortage is most acute in urban and suburban areas with high costs and fast growth. Many of these areas are also served by mass transit.

While there are a few key reasons for the crisis, one is simple: we are not producing enough new housing and are falling far short of the number of homes needed to keep up with population and household growth. In the Washington, DC metropolitan area, research has found that localities need to develop 320,000 new units—most for low to middle-income households—between 2020 and 2030. That’s about 30% more than currently forecasted for that period. Cities and counties have also failed to take advantage of public and private land near proposed rail lines and major bus corridors. This is a missed opportunity.

Building more and varied housing is the second component of Prosperity Now’s three-pronged homeownership strategy. To do this, we have advocated for:

  • More density
  • Factory-built housing
  • Shared equity and land trusts
  • Transit-oriented development

Offering a variety of housing tenures and types allows young families, first-time homebuyers, job seekers and retirees to live in communities better suited to provide good services and wanted amenities.

Due to regulatory and statutory directives, the Federal Transit Administration awards funds to public transit projects without fully considering how housing can be developed at or near new transit sites. This is another missed opportunity. Housing that is better connected to the region through transit offers families more choice in work, education and other opportunities. Transit-oriented development also reduces traffic and pollution and improves public health and safety.

While jurisdictions across the country have leveraged transit projects to advance housing—and the United States Department of Transportation has, at times, encouraged such efforts—Congress needs to provide clearer guidance and direction. Introduced in the House on September 12, the bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act (H.R. 4307) aims to do just this.

Offered by Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the bill would require applicants for federal transit funds to review the viability of housing at and near the site, get meaningful land use changes to facilitate housing and consider local conditions such as density and the availability of public lands in their feasibility assessments. Prosperity Now joins other housing organizations, including LISC, Habitat for Humanity, the National Housing Trust and Up for Growth, that have been leading this effort in supporting this legislation.

The introduction of H.R. 4307 is the first stop to improving how we use transit funds to benefit the larger needs of our communities. Here’s hoping Congress gets on board.

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