sustainable and equitable development: overview » who benefits
Goal: Promote Sustainable and Equitable Development
Policy: Overview

Who benefits from sustainable and equitable development?

Click on the links to learn how about the variety of direct and indirect benefits associated with sustainable and equitable communities:

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Who benefits from sustainable and equitable development?
Sustainable and equitable development can provide health and environmental benefits to working families, as well as contribute to the regional economy and transit agencies.

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Mariposa ApartmentsEnsuring an inclusive development process
Public engagement processes that gather input from local stakeholders are a critical component of any sustainable and equitable development project to produce community-wide benefits.

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Working families

Research confirms that for working families, housing costs often decrease as a share of income as distance from central cities, job centers, and other amenity-rich areas increases. However, when families move farther from jobs and other destinations, the increase in transportation costs—typically resulting from increased reliance on one or more personal vehicles—often exceeds any housing cost savings. Compact and transit-oriented development that includes housing affordable to families of all incomes can address this problem by combining affordable housing with lower cost transportation alternatives and direct links to jobs, retail and entertainment opportunities.

Research has shown that families in auto-dependent neighborhoods allocate, on average, 25 percent of the household budget to transportation. In walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods average spending on transportation is just 9 percent [1]. This savings is significant, and could be particularly meaningful for low- and moderate-income families who can redirect the savings to other household needs such as food and clothing (so long as their housing costs do not increase by a similar amount). This is one of many reasons why it's important to ensure that housing options affordable to low- and moderate-income families are available in location-efficient areas.

New investment and reinvestment around transit stations can also spark economic development and revitalization. This development can provide new amenities and retail services, but also lead to escalating rent levels, property values, and home prices. When housing costs grow too high, low- and moderate-income families may be priced out of the neighborhood, reducing the economic and racial diversity of location-efficient areas. Early coordination of housing, land use, and transportation planning can go a long way toward preserving existing affordable housing near transit and in other location-efficient areas before prices rise and ensuring options affordable to moderate-income families are included in new development. For the lowest income families, it will often be necessary to layer existing subsidy programs, such as Section 8 vouchers, on top of other programs that promote affordability. Learn more about subsidy layering.

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Increased independence for older adults and others with mobility impairments

Transit-oriented development (TOD) allows residents to get to and from work, shopping and other errands without a car or with substantially reduced car usage. this is beneficial for households for whom car ownership is prohibitively expensive, but also for older adults and those with disabilities who might be unable to drive. a comprehensive planning strategy can actively work to ensure that the public transportation system provides good connectivity between different hubs – job centers, medical facilities, shopping districts and other points in the region. Baltimore's Red Line project, for example, will connect the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, government employment centers, social service agencies and other transit lines to improve accessibility for nearby residents to jobs, medical care and services that would otherwise be less accessible.

Economic and community benefits

Compact, location-efficient development can also lead to lower public infrastructure costs by reducing the costs associated with serving a highly dispersed population at low densities. One study from 2005 estimated that local jurisdictions could save more than $12 billion nationwide on water and sewer costs and nearly $110 billion on road costs over the next 25 years by pursuing location-efficient development practices. [2] Compact development can also reduce the number of firehouses and police stations required to serve a community, relative to low-density areas, as well as the distance and cost of busing students to local schools.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) can generate secondary economic benefits for residents and businesses, as well, by spurring additional development and boosting local spending power. Many businesses are attracted to neighborhoods near transit stations because, according to survey data, young professionals prefer to live in affordable, sustainable, transit-accessible areas. [3] For local businesses, this type of development comes with a built-in customer base. But the impact on families is also significant. Use of public transit, rather than personal vehicles, can save families thousands of dollars a year in transportation costs. These range from an estimated $1,580 per year in Little Rock, and $1,830 in Minneapolis, to $3,110 in Chicago, $3,610 in Phoenix and as high as $3,850 in Boston. [4] So long as the savings are not eaten up by higher housing costs, the savings can be spent at local businesses, purchasing necessary goods and services.

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Health benefits

Communities with compact development patterns that provide for a mix of uses provide a greater opportunity for residents to meet their daily transportation needs by walking or bicycling, which is an important aspect of improving community health. Transit systems can also provide essential access to medical facilities, supermarkets, and outdoor spaces that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Inadequate transportation is the leading cause of missed medical appointments, and low-income and minority communities often face the most significant transportation barriers. [5] Affordable transit-oriented development can help improve access to health facilities and facilitate walking and biking. Car- and bike-sharing and vanpool services can also help.

Another health benefit of location-efficient development stems from its role in reducing the number and duration of necessary car trips. Motor-vehicle-related pollution is responsible for a majority of air pollution in the United States—pollution that causes and exacerbates cancer, asthma, and other diseases. By making it easier for residents to walk, bike, or take public transit, transit-oriented development can ease and even prevent these chronic ailments. According to a study from The Trust for America’s Health, prevention programs — including location-efficient development — can yield up to a $5.60 return per dollar spent in reduced health costs after five years by preventing and easing ailments such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, asthma, hypertension, and obesity. [6]

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Environmental benefits

By reducing the number and length of necessary car trips, location-efficient development can significantly lower levels of traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. On a per-unit basis, residents in transit-oriented developments make just over half the number of motor-vehicle trips as residents of conventional development. [7] In addition to reducing congestion on roads, fewer vehicles can greatly reduce the number of air pollutants in a community. Vehicle emissions are responsible for half of the toxic air pollutant emissions and 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions in the United States, [8] which contribute to the incidenceof asthma and some cancers.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Housing Authority
In addition to curbing pollution from traffic, TOD and infill development generally encourage compact development patterns that minimize sprawl. Sprawl can disrupt local wildlife habitats and destroy productive farmland. As the footprint of the built environment increases, aquifers are stressed and pollution enters waterways via run-off from roads, parking lots and other paved areas. Sprawl also requires extensive infrastructure investments, including roads, sewers and other public utilities such as trash removal, electricity and gas. These investments can be costly in addition to disrupting the environment and endangering local wildlife and plants.

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Benefits for transit agencies

Affordable housing can be an important component of successful transit investments. Moderate- and low-income households are the most dedicated users of public transportation and can ensure ridership remains high. However, regardless of income level, all residents of transit-oriented development are 2 to 5 times more likely to use transit than other commuters in the region, and use increases as the transit network grows and links more job centers, schools and other amenities. [9]

Furthermore, TOD provides rich opportunities for creating public/private joint development and other partnerships that help to ensure the success of a transit system. Local governments can use their authority to acquire land or rezone parcels for development, create tax-increment financing districts or provide funding to support a project. They can also invest in parks, sidewalks and other public improvements near TOD. Well-designed, mixed-use design attracts both residents and visitors, so amenities such as these are important to the success of a development. [10]

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[1] Mixed-Income Housing Near Transit: Increasing Affordability With Location Efficiency. [PDF] (2009) By The Center for Transit-Oriented Development. Washington, DC: Reconnecting America.
Sprawl Costs: Economic impacts of Unchecked Development. [Book for purchase] (2005) By Rober Burchell, Anthony Downs, Barbara McCann and Sahan Mukherji. Washington, DC: Island Press.
[3] "
Back to the City." Cities of Opportunity. [PDF] (May 2010) By Ania Wieckowski. Price Waterhouse-Coopers and the Partnership for New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review.
Pennywise, Pound Fuelish: New Measures of Housing + Transportation Affordability. [PDF] (2010). Chicago, IL: Center for Neighborhood Technology.
[5] All Aboard! Making Equity and Inclusion Central to Federal Transportation Policy [PDF] By Victor Rubin. Oakland, CA: PolicyLink.
[7] Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel. [PDF] (2008). By GB Arrington and Robert Cervero. TCRP Report 128.
The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, PB Placemaking and Urban Land Institute. Washington, DC: Reconnecting America.
[8] All Aboard! Making Equity and Inclusion Central to Federal Transportation Policy [PDF] By Victor Rubin. Oakland, CA: PolicyLink.
[9] Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel. [PDF] (2008). By GB Arrington and Robert Cervero. TCRP Report 128. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, PB Placemaking and Urban Land Institute. Washington, DC: Reconnecting America.
[10] Ibid.