How Transit-Oriented Development Can Help Get America to Work

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012



Faced with rising poverty rates, high unemployment, and a fragile economic recovery, more and more families are struggling to hold on to the American Dream — the fundamental belief that here, in the “land of opportunity,” anyone willing to work hard can get ahead, save for the future, and build a better life for themselves, their families and the next generation. Policymakers and the public alike are focused intently on what has always been the very linchpin of achieving that dream — jobs, jobs, jobs. Yet, in that pursuit, there is one critically important element that is often overlooked: the fact that today, simply getting from home to work and back again has become a growing challenge for many Americans.

Over the past several decades, jobs in general have moved away from city centers and from mass transit. Today, some three quarters of all jobs are located outside the city center, and lower-skilled workers bear the heaviest commuting burden as their jobs have moved to outer urban rings that often lack access to public transportation. Low-income workers increasingly must buy cars and gasoline they can ill afford or spend hours on circuitous commutes.

This places a heavy burden on American families at a significant economic cost to the nation: $100 billion lost each year in time and fuel because of workers’ lengthy and inconvenient commutes, according to the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.2 For every dollar a family saves by moving to lower cost housing, 77 cents is consumed by the costs of commuting back to their jobs.3,4 And the current high demand for housing in many urban rental markets means this pressure on working families will grow, not lessen.

We know how to build vibrant communities where residents can walk to shops, restaurants, groceries and community services; and where public transportation provides convenient connections to residents’ places of work. All too often, though, these success stories are upper-income communities planned from the outset as attractive, livable environments designed around deluxe housing developments, or where historic urban centers were revitalized through gentrification. Transportation, along with retail and other high-quality amenities, is recognized as an essential component of an attractive high-end residential development.

We can work together to envision a new era of American life, in which families of all economic levels have convenient, safe, affordable access to transportation systems — and save $1 trillion each decade in lost time and fuel. By pairing transportation investment decisions with plans to create affordable housing and essential services, such as schools and childcare, health care, healthy food stores, libraries and retail services, we can help communities grow in a balanced manner, with opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.

In short, it’s not just about jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s about equitable transit-oriented development to bring together jobs, transportation, housing and community services in ways that work equally well for lower- and upper-income families.

Policymakers, employers, community leaders and investors each have a role to play. Investing in integrated development initiatives can have positive returns both for communities and for investors. We at the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and Morgan Stanley believe that both from the community development perspective, and from that of a financial institution, investing in communities could be benefited by an integrated analysis of how transportation, housing, jobs, and community services need to come together to serve all neighborhoods and workers.

This paper sets out the importance of investing in economic development strategies that focus from the earliest planning stages on equity and opportunity for low-income workers. We will outline some of the conditions that enable communities and investors to design thriving societies and help break down traditional silos of community development. Finally, we will discuss why integrating transit and community development is not just good social policy but also smart investing.

Download full report (PDF): How Transit-Oriented Development Can Help Get America to Work

About the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF)
“LIIF is a community development financial institution (CDFI) that provides innovative capital solutions that support healthy families and communities. As a CDFI, LIIF invests in projects that have high social value but may not be able to access the services offered by traditional financial institutions. In this way, LIIF connects low income communities with the capital markets.”

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