By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
U.S. Representative Marilyn Strickland (WA-10) recently collaborated with Representatives Scott Peters (CA-50), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5), and Senators Brian Schatz (HI) and Mike Braun (IN) to reintroduce the bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act. The aim is to encourage the construction of low- and middle-income housing in transit-served, walkable locations.
The introduction of the bill aligns with the Department of Transportation’s recent announcement outlining new measures to support the conversion of high-vacancy commercial buildings to residential use. This includes providing new financing, technical assistance, and the sale of federal properties.
“Washington state simply does not have the housing supply to keep up with demand, driving the cost of living and home prices up and making homeownership unattainable for too many families,” said Rep. Strickland. “Common-sense solutions like the Build More Housing Near Transit Act are necessary to addressing the housing crisis, with the added benefit of helping protect the environment and boosting our public transit ridership.”
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the United States faces a shortage of 7.3 million rental affordable homes, with 11.3 million Americans spending more than half of their income on housing.
The Build More Housing Near Transit Act of 2023 seeks to facilitate the construction of affordable housing, increase ridership on transit systems, and maximize federal funds. The bill also incorporates climate change provisions, as research indicates that building housing near transit lines has significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s no secret that many cities across America, including Spokane, are facing unprecedented workforce and housing shortages,” said Rep. Rodgers. “Our bipartisan bill aims to address these challenges by expanding access to affordable housing near transit centers, helping people live more comfortably in and around the communities where they work.”
According to the bill’s sponsors, The Build More Housing Near Transit Act would direct the Department of Transportation to incentivize local governments to promote housing development and regional growth in and around the transit corridors of future New Starts projects.
Specifically, the bill proposes amendments to U.S. Code Section 5309, governing the application process for capital investment grants to:
• Direct the Secretary of Transportation to boost a transit project’s rating if the project includes pro-housing policies for areas along the project route.
• Define pro-housing policies as state or local action to remove regulatory barriers to constructing or preserving housing, reduce or eliminate parking minimums or minimum lot sizes, establish by-right approval processes for multi-family housing, commit substantial public property to affordable housing development or preservation, and eliminate or raise residential property height limits.
• Engage the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop a methodology to evaluate the merits of the pro-housing policies documented in a CIG application.
By rewarding local municipalities through incentives, lawmakers believe this will aid in providing the necessary leverage in the fight against homelessness.
“The clearest way out of our national housing shortage is by building more housing,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bipartisan bill will incentivize cities to build housing when they expand or redevelop their public transit systems. This will help put more families in homes, grow local economies, and cut carbon pollution. It’s a win for everyone.”
Angela Brooks of the American Planning Association believes the bill goes a long way in addressing the housing crisis that currently exists in America.
“Effective planning that coordinates transit, housing, jobs, and land use is vital to tackling today’s housing supply and affordability crisis,” says Brooks. “The Build More Housing Near Transit Act will spur better coordination of housing and transportation, promoting public transit projects that also increase mobility options and access to housing.
“This legislation encourages local governments to improve their housing and zoning policies through land use and zoning reforms, such as reducing parking minimums, allowing missing middle housing, and making use of public land for mixed-income housing,” she continued. “The American Planning Association is proud to support this legislation as a catalyst for housing reform and to ensure transportation provides the highest benefit to the nation’s communities.”
Many advocates believe that having housing supplies in close proximity to public transit is a vital “step in the right direction” in closing the housing gaps in America.
“Our nation’s longstanding affordability crisis – fueled by a lack of housing at all price points – demands responsible and sustainable action from lawmakers, and the National Apartment Association (NAA) is proud to support the Build More Housing Near Transit Act as an important step in the right direction,” said Bob Pinnegar, President and CEO of NAA. “By incentivizing local governments to increase critically needed housing supply with close access to public transportation, this bipartisan and bicameral legislation will help improve housing access for generations of Americans to come.”
“For too long, transit and housing issues have run in parallel,” said Senator Braun. “This bill finally marries the two by giving local governments the tools they need to encourage high density and mixed-use development to help relieve the affordable housing crisis. This bill gives local communities the resources they need to build more housing near transit systems and encourages them to enable their economies to grow through more housing options for families.”