Houston must address housing and transportation affordability jointly

Only 44% of rental housing units in Houston are affordable for families with average income, and only 1 out of every 3 of those dwellings is near reliable and affordable transportation, according to a new joint report by researchers from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and LINK Houston.

“Where Affordable Housing and Transportation Meet in Houston” identifies and outlines recommendations to improve the quality and affordability of both housing and transportation in the nation’s fourth-largest city. It also introduces four tools that can be used to support these efforts.

The report identifies areas where Houstonians can find not only affordable housing, but also affordable and reliable transportation for people who rely upon walking, biking or using public transit. Drawing upon the Quality Affordable Transportation Index (QATi), a metric developed by LINK Houston and the Kinder Institute, it also addresses related topics like encouraging people to think about mass transit when they’re deciding where they should live.

“Expenses of housing and transportation are interconnected,” said Kinder Institute research fellow John Park. “Many neighborhoods with convenient transit have expensive housing. In contrast, most neighborhoods where housing is affordable require longer commutes. Most research views these two basic costs separately. In reality, however, the two costs are tied together. Our report attempts to capture these two largest living costs simultaneously, as we believe there should be more effort put into connecting the dots between housing and transportation.”

The researchers recommend the following steps to align housing and transportation development:

  • Preserve and build affordable housing in areas with high-quality, affordable transportation.

    “Local government and other affordable housing stakeholders must create policies, incentives and resources to prioritize affordable housing developments and improvements in areas where people can access frequent and low-cost transportation,” the report read. “This requires housing stakeholders to coordinate activities and investments with transportation stakeholders.”

  • Increase opportunities to walk, bike and use transit near affordable housing.

    “Transportation stakeholders – transit officials, regional planning offices, special districts and local government – must prioritize sidewalk, bikeway and transit improvements in areas where affordable housing exists now and will expand in the future,” the report read.

  • Map and monitor affordable housing and transportation to demonstrate the benefits of policies and investments in affordability.

    “Local governments in the Houston region need to lead in collecting, maintaining and publishing accurate, current data about affordable housing and transportation,” the report read. “Understanding the geographic intersection of housing and transportation helps to target investments, incentives and policies to preserve and develop affordable housing in locations that allow people to walk, bike and use transit, thus maximizing benefits to residents.”

  • Assess and compare potential affordable housing sites to improve access to affordable transportation.

    “Housing stakeholders must consistently and thoroughly consider affordable transportation availability and quality to determine true housing affordability,” the report read.

  • Develop resources to help people understand how housing and transportation impact overall affordability.

    “Family self-sufficiency and financial counselors must prompt their clients to contemplate location, travel options and transportation expenses in their housing decisions,” the report read.

The four tools offered in the report to support these steps:

  • The Counselor Facilitation Guide: Considering Transportation in Decisions, which provides counselors with guidance on how to help people make decisions about housing, mobility, self-sufficiency and financial matters.
  • The Individual Workbook: Considering Transportation in Your Housing Decision, designed to help people further understand their transportation needs, consider their goals and identify questions to guide their decision.
  • The Quality Affordable Transportation & Affordable Housing 2020 Map, which enables affordable housing decision-makers and developers to identify locations where quality, affordable transportation exists today.
  • The Housing + Transportation Decision-maker Scorecard, a resource for governments or developers to compare sites in order to better prioritize affordable housing investments near quality, affordable transportation.

These tools are available online at https://linkhouston.org.

“LINK Houston’s work is grounded in meaningful community participation to ensure equitable and just outcomes,” said its executive director, Oni K. Blair. “We invited residents, as well as housing and transportation stakeholders, to join the Affordable Housing + Transportation Task Force. Working with the task force, we developed tools based on community values that will help families, technical experts and decision-makers shift how they view and address affordability.”

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