The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday August 8th

Counties hope to link affordable housing with accessible transit

Affordable housing located on transit lines is rare, so the planning for those developments has to start early.

Wake, Durham and Orange Counties are planning to add high-quality bus, light rail and commuter rail services in a few years as part of a regional transit plan.

Bergen Watterson, a planner for development and infrastructure at the Triangle J Council of Governments, said people living in affordable housing are more likely to utilize public transit than the average resident.

Housing becomes more expensive when it is located near public transportation, so Watterson said it is important for towns in the Triangle to start thinking about developing affordable housing along potential transit corridors before the new transit options are introduced.

“Transit agencies benefit from having affordable housing in station areas because the people living there tend to boost ridership,” she said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Orange County Commissioners have been working with other areas of the Triangle to develop a 17.3-mile light rail that will connect UNC Hospitals to East Durham via N.C. Highway 54.

Out of seven affordable housing developments with more than 50 units located in Orange County, only one is located along the proposed light rail, according to a report released by the Triangle J Council of Governments in October.

Carrboro

At its planning retreat Sunday, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen committed to providing affordable housing along transit corridors in the county.

Alderman Sammy Slade said Carrboro already looks for potential affordable housing sites near transit lines as part of the town’s policy.

“That really minimizes a burden on low-income homeowners,” he said. “We are excited to partner with someone to make that happen.”

Sally Greene, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, said the proximity of affordable housing to transit lines is something local policymakers strive to take into consideration.

“Closeness to transit makes housing more expensive,” Greene said. “It’s no longer appropriate to think of a house or apartment as just 30 percent of your monthly income.”

‘No one approach’

Watterson said there are two things that surface repeatedly in the research of other regions.

There must be plans for affordable housing near transit before the transit is built, Watterson said. This would avoid a steep rise in price that makes obtaining the necessary affordable housing properties more difficult later.

She added that municipalities in the area must partner with the private sector.

Watterson said private sector companies often seek incentives or assistance from municipalities to build developments that include affordable housing, and municipalities often do not have the resources to construct housing alone.

“There’s no one approach that will produce the result that everyone is looking for,” she said.

The report released by the Triangle J Council of Governments and the Triangle Chapter of the Urban Land Institute said Denver, Colo. is a city the Triangle could emulate.

Watterson said the land around Denver’s new transit system is similar to the Triangle because of its room for new construction and potential for redevelopment.

Denver has a successful Transit-Oriented Development Fund, which the Triangle could consider in the future.

“Even though it’s a city and we are talking about a region, we can still follow its example,” she said. “It’s where we could be in a generation.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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