As many already know, I have started my new appointment as I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor in Affordable Housing and Urban Policy in the Department of City and Regional Planning with the College of Environmental Design here at UC Berkeley. I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself, say “hello” and share a bit about what I’m working on and looking forward to in the coming semesters.
As an alumna of the Master’s of City Planning program, this is somewhat of a homecoming. I have returned to the Bay Area from my role in the Obama Administration as Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As FHA commissioner during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and one precipitated by the housing collapse, it was a challenging and fascinating time to work in housing and in the federal government. Leading FHA, my work focused on stabilizing the housing market and the agency itself by providing critical access to credit and developing new responses to the rental affordability crisis, including Choice Neighborhoods and the Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
It is a very exciting time to be jumping in at Berkeley. In addition to my teaching and research roles, I’m also honored to be serving as co-chair of the Policy Advisory Board of the Fisher Center of Real Estate and Urban Economics in the Haas School of Business. These roles are providing the opportunity to connect with the tremendous network of students and faculty across campus, and take advantage of the wealth of resources UC Berkeley has to offer.
As I’ve settled in here on campus, I’ve also had the chance to attend and speak at several off campus events about my work in the Administration and reflect on the current state of the housing field. Most recently I was back in Washington speaking at the Mortgage Banker’s Association Single Family Rental Finance Summit. Last month, I provided testimony to the California Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, addressed the Association of Bay Area Governments at their State of the Region Symposium, and spoke to the Emerging Leaders Peer Network (an initiative of the Non-Profit Housing Association of California). In February, I spoke at the The Real Estate and Law Symposium at Stanford University, and in January, I sat on a panel for Zillow, as they kicked off their National Housing Tour.
Here on campus, I was invited to address students, faculty and alumni at the Berkeley Circus Soiree, where I spoke about the enormous responsibility and intellectual challenge of being at the center of the federal government’s response to the housing crisis, and what was involved in shaping that response. I offered my thoughts on some of the challenges and opportunities we’re contending with in the housing field here in the Bay Area, as well as in California, and the country as a whole.
These ideas and reflections are in part what is shaping my vision and thoughts for the development of a new housing center here at Berkeley. Though still in the early stages of formation, I look forward to more formally don the hat of Faculty Director in the coming months with our official launch. The center will be a collaboration among the College of Environmental Design, the Institute of Urban and Regional Development, and the Fisher Center on Real Estate and Urban Economics, and we will examine the latest developments in housing and real estate policy, finance, and practice. The center will serve as a resource to highlight what’s working and what’s possible, both locally and nationally, and will conduct research, convene people and ideas, and support interdisciplinary collaboration around the innovations that can push the housing field forward.
Because one of the main goals of the center is to generate research and ideas that are both rigorous and timely, we intend to keep our finger on the pulse of the field through ongoing and deep engagement with practitioners, community members, scholars (from across this and other institutions), and other members of the public. To that end, I’m excited to be continuing with a busy speaking engagement calendar in the coming months. Look out for reflections from those events in the near future, and follow me on twitter @carolgalante4 for the latest updates. It has been a great first few months in my new role here at Berkeley, and I look forward to a very exciting and fruitful year!
With the growing interest in urban living and investment in transit-oriented development (TOD), cities are becoming more expensive than ever. So how can we ensure low-income communities have access to transit and opportunity? In our recent study for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, Ian Carlton and I conducted a national scan to gauge how far the field of equitable TOD has come and identify opportunities for further improvement.
The study was inspired by recent federal action from the Federal Transit Administration to incorporate affordable housing into their evaluation metrics of the New Starts transit grant applicants. While a number of local, regional and state governments have already developed innovative funding and incentive programs to encourage equitable TODs, we were curious about the potential impact of such an action at the federal level. Will federal action make TODs more equitable in the future?
To begin to answer this question, we analyzed the proximity of low-income housing to existing rail stations. We found that only 15% of affordable housing developments subsidized by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) are within a half mile of a transit station. In contrast, over half of newly built transit stations have been located within a half mile of existing LIHTC developments. In other words, transit has done better at locating near affordable housing than vice versa. This may be due to the need for dense neighborhoods to support ridership, as well as the housing policies that channel subsidized housing to such areas.
We also uncovered three factors that suggest that the few existing affordable TODs are either located in low opportunity neighborhoods or may not be stable. First, we found that transit-accessible neighborhoods with LIHTC developments had significantly lower opportunity levels, as measured by poverty rates and school district performance, in comparison to both transit-accessible neighborhoods without LIHTC developments and neighborhoods with LIHTC developments that did not have transit stations. Second, affordable TODs were more likely to experience gentrification pressures than both non-affordable TODs and affordable housing that was not located in a TOD. And third, only one in five new transit neighborhoods saw new LIHTC developments added after they opened.
Our findings call into question the long-term stability of the few equitable TODs that have been successfully established. How much will the recently established evaluation criteria of the New Starts program shift the landscape? Given that over half of transit stations already go into neighborhoods with subsidized housing, it may be fruitful to focus efforts on funding new affordable units in TODs, as cost is often the limiting factor in the affordable housing industry. This is especially true in TODs given the extensive evidence showing that transit stations increase property values of surrounding neighborhoods. Furthermore, additional efforts should be made to develop affordable housing in high opportunity TODs, of which we have found few to date.
And how do we stabilize the few existing affordable TODs, given our finding that they are more likely to experience gentrification pressures? In a related project, I am studying the role of transit investments in neighborhood gentrification and displacement of low-income households in the Bay Area. Through this project, we are developing a toolkit to help communities identify early warning signs and identify policy packages to better prepare for and prevent displacement from occurring.
More research and action is certainly needed. As our investigations into three case studies indicated, even where communities have been successful at developing affordable housing near transit, ridership may not be meeting expectations; the theoretical benefits of affordable housing developments near transit may therefore not be fully captured. Affordable TOD appears to be a laudable goal, but one that is not yet fully understood. It will be important to replicate similar studies in the future to determine if recent policymaking, new funding programs and other efforts aimed at fostering equitable growth in transit and opportunity-rich neighborhoods are successfully moving the needle.