Partnership Groups Convene on Equitable Transit and TOD

December 18, 2009 -- FRESC

by Robin Kneich, FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities

With increased attention on global warming and a financial pinch on the ability of working families to afford cars, there is a growing movement to increase our local and national commitment to mass transit. Forward-thinking Partnership cities Atlanta, Denver, San Jose and Seattle are in the midst of large, new transit expansions which will channel billions of dollars of investment into our communities and create thousands of new jobs. These investments present both opportunities and challenges for equity – who will new transit lines serve? Will the jobs created be good ones, and will they be accessed by local residents who need them most? Will families of all incomes be able to afford to live near new transit?

To tackle these questions and exchange the best practices already emerging in our cities, FRESC received support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to host a Peer Convening on Transit and TOD: Equity & Opportunity . On November 10 we welcomed staff, labor and community partners from Puget Sound Sage, Georgia STAND-UP, and Working Partnerships USA along with representatives of the Annie E. Casey, Surdna and Ford Foundations, and a group of national experts including PWF, Reconnecting America, Transportation Equity Network, Good Jobs First, Green for All and Urban Habitat from the Bay Area.

The convening covered several key topics, including the intrinsic value of transit itself, ensuring that the build-out and permanent jobs associated with transit and transit-oriented development are good jobs, the importance of affordable housing along new and existing lines, and the connection between local equity and national transportation reauthorization in Congress.

In addition to new tools and resources, Partners shared the best practices that have surfaced in their cities. All four cities have emerging or existing community benefit campaigns associated with TODs. FRESC has been at the forefront of national research on connecting affordable housing to transit-agency owned land. Atlanta and Denver have policy campaigns underway that would apply to our transit expansions. Atlanta’s community outreach around the planned Beltline project is a model that could be replicated elsewhere. Denver is already involved in supporting equitable reform at the national level, and the other cities expressed interest in communicating with their congressional representatives.

As a starting point rather than a destination, the convening focused on identifying additional tools and resources to advance this work, and on what it would take to get to scale in our respective regions. Priorities included: tools for messaging transit jobs as the green jobs they are, principles for ensuring that any transit privatization protects the interests of the public and workers, and follow-up on the resources required to engage communities and impact multi-billion dollar expansions that happen all at once, rather than in phases as they do in older transit systems. We also brainstormed ways that PWF might facilitate more information and coordination with the national, equitable reform efforts including the role national unions might play. A number of the resources discussed at the convening are available on FRESC’s website under Transit Oriented Development.

National transportation reform may be up to 18 months away in Congress, but the effort to ensure funding for transit and access to good jobs and affordable housing is underway today, and is already at the forefront in many of our Partnership cities. Transit-oriented development is the next frontier in the effort to achieve responsible development, and Partnership cities are preparing to seize the opportunity to win real benefits for low- and moderate-income communities when these investments are made.