Durham’s Joint City-County planning Committee spent last Wednesday morning hearing from city experts on the state of affordable housing near planned transit stations. As efforts to enhance mobility move forward, Durham officials want to be prepared for not only the benefits that new transit investments bring but the challenges as well. As such, they have invested resources and staff time in assessing the stock of affordable housing, options to maintain existing affordable housing, as well as policy tools and potential sites available for expanding affordable housing.
Housing is considered affordable if housing-related costs such as rent and utilities are no more than 30 percent of a household’s income.
Research shows that a majority of neighborhoods where new transit stations are built experience higher housing costs, undergo gentrification, and attract higher-income residents who are less likely to use public transit. With these troubling findings in mind, Durham CAN and other community activists organized a successful policy campaign over several years to urge local elected officials to plan for this reality. In response, Durham elected officials set a goal that at least 15 percent of housing within a half mile of each transit station be affordable to residents at or below 60 percent of the median area income. That is an annual earnings of roughly $37,350 for a family of three, which is a very modest income considering that $51,729 is needed to earn a living wage for that family size in Durham County.
Ten of Durham County’s 11 planned transit stations already meet the 15 percent goal, according to staff analysis unveiled at the committee meeting. Leigh Village in southwest Durham has 14.8 percent of occupied housing that is considered affordable, with the share ranging from 31.2 percent to 71.1 percent in the other neighborhoods surrounding the planned stations. Staff also presented a very preliminary analysis of tools available—such as acquisition funds, density bonuses, and joint development with the private and non-profit sectors—to help the city maintain and build upon the existing affordable-housing options. A full analysis of the pro and cons will be complete by May 2015.
By prioritizing affordable housing concerns into the transit planning progress, Durham officials are setting a model for its neighbor on both sides—Orange and Wake counties—who are also moving forward with plans to expand transit. This proactive approach works to ensure that the benefits of transit investments (which are funded by a regressive sales tax) are broadly shared so low- and moderate-income residents aren’t left behind as new opportunities enter their communities. Indeed, transit investments can be a powerful force for social and economic equity if lawmakers choose to protect residents from displacement and enhance connectivity by coordinating transit, housing, and jobs policies.
For more reading on policy tools available for lawmakers to be proactive on gentrification and displacement, check out the National Housing Institute’s framework for sustainable and equitable revitalization.