Efforts to build housing around transit threaten to price out those most dependent on bus and rail

By Joshua Emerson Smith : sandiegouniontribune – excerpt

The greatest risk is the places that are already showing signs of gentrification. There’s already value in those neighborhoods and the private market has seen...

Lawmakers, academics and urban planners from Southern California to Sacramento have long called for building denser housing around transit stops. The idea is to design neighborhoods that encourage people to ditch their car commutes — simultaneously fighting climate change while trying to address the state’s historic housing crisis.

However, efforts to inspire construction along rail and bus lines, coupled with a severe shortage of housing, have brought opulent apartment buildings and condominiums into economically challenged neighborhoods. As young professionals flock to the new housing, moderate- to low-income tenants in urban areas from San Diego to Sacramento are now facing displacement.

Tenants’ rights groups, especially in Southern California, say the trend is already playing out in many communities with serious consequences…

While the median family income in those neighborhoods was on average less than $64,000 a year, the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment was more than $3,500 a month, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of Census and Costar data.

And about one in five of those projects are in areas where the median household income is less than $30,000, where the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment is still more than $3,300….(more)

Concerns have become so pronounced, in fact, that academics have given the phenomenon a name: “transit-induced gentrification.”

The report found that “transit proximity has a significant impact on the stability of the surrounding neighborhood, leading to increases in housing costs that change the composition of the area, including the loss of low-income households.” …

Affluent communities have routinely expressed concerns about new housing bringing increased traffic and undermining local aesthetics. More recently, lower-income renters have started demanding policies to prevent renters from being shunted aside in the rush to build housing for middle-class families.

After garnering national attention, Wiener saw his proposal, SB 827, to preempt local zoning rules around transit abruptly killed in its first committee hearing.

The death blow came, somewhat surprisingly, with opposition from rights groups for low-income tenants, such as Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, known as SAJE.

“My group really believe strongly in increased density along transit lines,” said Executive Director Cynthia Strathmann. “We just want to make sure that a big component of that is affordable.”…

Under pressure from local residents, the city of San Diego has repeatedly stalled on plans to allow for greater density around planned transit stations that will serve the Mid-Coast Trolley extension, which is under construction from downtown to University City. Such proposals have routinely drawn huge crowds of angry homeowners from Bay Park, Linda Vista and Clairemont…

“What the community wants is workforce housing, and what the proposals are on the table from the land owners are luxury rentals with ocean views,” said James LaMattery, spokesperson for a group called Raise the Balloon, formed to oppose a city proposal to raise the building height limit in Bay Ho from 30 feet to 60 feet. “The city wants to rezone for more housing but they don’t want to guarantee the appropriate housing.”…

“Let’s be frank, there’s sometimes a blindness from the YIMBY crowd about the interests of the low-income tenant community and communities of color,” said Colin Parent, executive director of Circulate San Diego and member of a new local Democratic Party club YIMBY Democrats. “It just doesn’t occur to them that these displacement issues are big problems.”…

Statewide, tenants’ rights advocates have spearheaded a repeal of a decades-old law known as the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits cities from imposing rent control on single-family homes, condominiums, as well as any apartment buildings built after 1995…

“It will absolutely interfere with new construction, and that’s the biggest fear we have,” said Debra Carlton, senior vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association. “If you can’t make that thing pencil it’s not going to happen in cities with strict rent control. It’s a great way to slow development.”… (more)

How we investigated the displacement of transit riders


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