Show me the Money

19 Mar
Given our current economic climate, securing funds for long-range transportation projects has been a challenge for cities across the nation. Over the next decade, California’s transportation needs are projected to be funded at less than 50 percent[PDF]. Some governments have addressed the problem by turning to private entities that construct, operate, and maintain their transportation infrastructure. Similarly, the ever popular public-private partnership promises to lessen the burden on local government, but even that funding mechanism falls short. To help cover that gap, voters in several regions throughout the nation have chosen to tax themselves to provide a dedicated funding stream for transportation projects.While residents in some metro areas are paying more to fund public transportation projects, they’ve seen their personal transportation costs rise. Housing and transportation now rank among the highest household expenses. On average, the cost of housing and transportation make up about 57 percent of household income [PDF]. Many Americans have already adjusted their behaviors in response to these increasing costs. People are driving less, buying more fuel efficient cars, and moving closer to urban cores with better transportation options. But these improvements are incremental, and we need sustainable funding sources to foster integrated strategies that reduce personal transportation costs while maintaining (or improving) mobility.One option is to promote mixed-income housing around transit. For moderate- and low-income families that are particularly burdened by rising transportation and housing costs, living near transit is one way of potentially reducing those costs.

In Colorado, the Denver Transit-Oriented Development Fund is dedicated to preserving affordable housing development near planned or existing fixed rail stations and high-frequency bus stops. The fund, capitalized at $15 million, but evolving to $30 million, is a partnership between the city, quasi-governmental organizations, banks, non-profits and foundations. The Mile High Opportunity Collaborative is working alongside the Fund, ensuring that both residents and decision makers alike are aware of how increased transit and affordable housing opportunities are important to the vitality of Denver’s regional economy.

Similarly, Atlanta has adopted a Tax Allocation District (TAD) as a primary local funding source for a 22-mile transit corridor that encircles the city. The BeltLine connects Atlanta’s 45 neighborhoods and will cost an estimated $2.8 billion. The TAD is expected to generate about $1.7 billion over 25 years. Operating like a tax increment financing district, the TAD collects any additional tax revenue generated by redevelopment in the6,500 acre project area. In a nod to preserving housing affordability, 15 percent of the tax increment will be earmarked for the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Cities like Denver and Atlanta show how the future of transit and housing are interlinked and how gaining funding for transit-oriented development projects is still possible in this economic climate through creative collaborations between various stakeholders.

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