For students in my Housing Policy class, this experience was different from their usual lectures and quizzes. The two teams, each made up of two grad students and three or four undergraduates, gained real-world experience throughout the Winter term and made recommendations to planners at the City of Redmond last week.

Earlier in the term I wrote about my experience teaching an experiential learning, project-based course through the University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program, which allows instructors to build courses around the needs of a municipal partner. This year’s partner, the City of Redmond, identified their Affordable Housing Plan as one of the projects where they needed some help. Students in my class worked on two questions: the first group conducted a policy review of the Affordable Housing Plan, Comprehensive Plan and local policies on affordable housing in order to recommend strategies that the City could implement. The second group conducted interviews with local planners, non-profit housing providers and developers in order to determine the key issues in the provision of affordable housing in Redmond. Today, I will explain how the projects progressed throughout the Winter term (January-March).

We visited Redmond during the first week of January,IMG_0885 hearing from city planners about the current Affordable Housing Plan (2007) and some challenges the city is facing in terms of lower than average median incomes, an increasing number of young families, and higher than average unemployment. With Heather Richards, Community Development Director at the City of Redmond, we toured several projects in the city that had been funded through housing tax credits for low-income housing, secondary units, and clustered units.

Students worked on their projects each week–they had a lecture on Tuesdays, but on Thursdays they had time to work on their group projects, exploring key questions related to that week’s lecture. For example, during the week on housing for specific demographic groups, they explored whether an employer housing program developed in the UK might be applicable to the Redmond setting. Each group had two graduate students who served as the project managers, organizing meetings and ensuring that things stayed on track throughout the term.

For their interim deadline in Week 5 of the term, Group 1, who was conducting the policy analysis, prepared a framework showing the structure of the policies/plans, how they reinforced each other, and what affordable housing tools they wanted to investigate further. Group 2 wrote their interview guide and developed their list of participants based on some contacts the City had given them. They aimed to conduct 10-12 interviews, but in the end they completed fourteen.

Group 1 chose to investigate a number of affordable housing tools through the use of case studies, which they appended to their final report. They then determined whether the tool would be suitable for Redmond given its current policy framework, culture, and legal considerations. When the City planners, Chelsea Dickens and Katie McDonald, attended class presentations in Week 8, Group 1 used the feedback to help narrow down the tools to focus on. In the short term, they recommended gap financing, the development of an affordable housing trust (created through linkage fees, condominium conversion fee, and construction excise tax), waiving system development charges for affordable housing projects (funded through the trust), and changing the definition of dwelling units to include those with shared facilities and smaller sizes. Long-term suggestions included a housing dispersal policy, ensuring the use of clear standards for permit approval, adopting inclusionary zoning, and introducing employer assisted housing.

Group 2, in their first set of interviews, found that thereIMG_0982 was an increasing gap between the average housing prices and average income in Redmond. Some of the barriers to affordable housing identified by participants included NIMBYism and social stigma from the public and within the city government, the development code, and the low return on investment. Tools such as gap financing, decreasing the service development charges, and rent subsidies were discussed. Surprisingly, homelessness was an issue affecting Redmond, which does not currently have a homeless shelter. Hidden homelessness, with couch surfing or sleeping in cars, is becoming more common, although the City planners did not necessarily want to acknowledge or address this issue in the Affordable Housing Plan. Group 2 recommended the use of the housing continuum model to understand how different types of housing are needed, and pressure on one type of housing puts pressure on other types. In this case, the lack of affordable rental housing forces people into ownership before they are ready (Redmond had a much higher than average rate of foreclosures post-2008) and into precarious housing situations like couch-surfing.

In both groups, the need for a regional approach to affordable housing was raised, since Redmond is located near other small cities in Central Oregon: Bend, Sisters, Prineville, and Madras. Group 1 recommended that Redmond and Bend collaborate on a Consolidated Plan to help them access funding from Housing and Urban Development, while Group 2 recommended that the city foster partnerships between the non-profit housing providers, developers, and the city. Lack of public participation was also a significant issue, with both groups recommending more extensive public participation and involvement in a new Affordable Housing Plan. An Affordable Housing Advisory Committee would be a good idea to bring together stakeholders with different perspectives. Better communication, such as explanations of the various tools available to developers to build affordable housing, could be encouraged on the city’s website–developers and other stakeholders need to understand the different types of housing that could be built and the need for them in Redmond. During this term, Oregon’s state legislature approved inclusionary zoning, which will allow cities and counties to require developers to include low-income housing in new developments. The students made use of this exciting new policy development in their recommendations.

Students presented their final reports to the City via teleconference during Week 10 of the term, and submitted their final reports (download the Group 1 Report here, and Group 2 here). As is their usual practice, the Sustainable Cities Initiative office has hired two of the students compile the reports into a single document for future reference.

One of the issues students struggled with was the social stigma associated with affordable housing, particularly the issue of temporary housing and homelessness, among City staff. It was also apparent that communication and collaboration were at very low levels in Redmond compared to Eugene and Springfield, where recent efforts have led to a regional consolidated plan and HUD funding to address affordable housing. From an instructor standpoint, the course had to be front-loaded somewhat, so that students started with research methods (content analysis of the Affordable Housing Plan in Week 2 and developing their research tools by Week 5), with the theoretical material delivered later in the term. This worked fine for the Masters students, but not as well for the undergrads for whom the housing issues and theories were new. And of course, the ten-week term is extremely challenging for project scoping and completion. Overall, though, the students adapted to these conditions and were able to produce excellent work, gain an understanding of the constraints of policy development and implementation, and make some contacts in the planning field.

As most of you know, I’m currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Oregon at the Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management. One of the reasons I took the position was the university’s amazing Sustainable City Year Program, which has been running for six years now. This year’s partner is the City of Redmond, a rapidly growing city of about 20,000 on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon’s High Desert. The City identified a list of projects in the spring of 2015 that they needed help with, and the result is 22 courses at the university focused on Redmond.

I’ve been working hard at designing one of my winter term courses, Housing Policy, around one of Redmond’s identified interests. They adopted an Affordable Housing Strategy in 2007, which was unfortunate timing with the mortgage crisis striking the US the following year. Now that it’s time to review the strategy, Redmond is looking for ideas on the AHS.

I typically design my courses with a lecture on one day and an application and reflection activity on the next–Oregon courses are always on two separate days (Tues/Thurs or Mon/Wed). For this course, the students will be divided into groups, with one focusing on the policy side and the other on the implementation side.

  • On the policy project, students will review the AHS and Comprehensive Plan, as well as other relevant policy documents. They will be looking for areas of overlap and points of implementation for key AHS strategies.
  • On the implementation side, students will be designing an interview guide that they will use in interviewing key informants (planners, housing associations, community groups) to determine barriers to implementation of current and proposed AHS strategies.

Students will be able to work on the group project during the weekly application and reflection sessions. This is a mixed undergraduate/graduate course, with eight undergrads and three grads. It’s similar in makeup to a course I taught last term, Seminar in Sustainable Transportation. This does require some extra thought in terms of assignments, in this case getting the Masters students to be responsible for managing the projects and making sure everyone is following the schedule, for a separate grade.

Tomorrow we start off with a bang, and Friday we have our field trip to Redmond where we’ll meet with Grant Program Manager Chelsea Dickens and Assistant Program Administrator Ginny McPherson. I’ll be updating you from time to time on the course.

Last week the US Federal Transit Administration Transit-Oriented Planning Pilot Program awarded 21 grants for comprehensive planning work in 17 municipalities across the country. A total of $19.5 million was granted to cities that are in the process of developing transit projects that help integrate housing, jobs, and services. They include:

  • Developing a TOD Overlay District in the Phoenix’s zoning code that encourages pedestrian-oriented infill development, rehabilitation and redevelopment at appropriate densities, and affordable housing (City of Phoenix Public Transit Department)
  • Developing a toolkit of policy and regulatory changes to encourage TOD in the areas surrounding the planned Downtown Riverfront Streetcar, including updated plans and guidelines for areas along the streetcar route, development standards, updated zoning codes that encourage TOD, an infrastructure assessment and an analysis of affordable housing (Sacramento Area Council of Governments)
  • Analyzing housing and employment opportunity along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line corridor, examining state and local policies that inhibit TOD, identifying strategies and financing mechanisms to encourage TOD, and conducting outreach to residents and developers (Connecticut Department of Transportation)
  • Preparing a TOD plan for stations along the Gateway Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project, a 12-mile BRT line between Saint Paul and Woodbury, including public engagement plans, an analysis of housing and employment in the corridor, and plans for infrastructure, circulation and land use (Twin Cities Metropolitan Council)

For a full list of the projects, click here.

The interesting thing about these pilot grants is that they support planning process, and not transportation infrastructure. Since one of the major barriers to implementation of TOD is existing policy, a number of these projects aim to change existing policies or develop new regulations to encourage TOD (e.g. Phoenix, Sacramento, Albuquerque). Another emphasis is on public participation, with many municipalities seeking funds to carry out extensive public processes (e.g. Durham, Buffalo, New Haven). Several projects aim to develop station-area specific land use plans, some strategic plans, and others implementation plans. A few even address local economic development, jobs, and affordable housing.

 

In Boston, a private shuttle service is revolutionalizing urban trips. Bridj moves passengers between Kendall Square, Brookline, Allston, Back Bay, Downtown, South Boston, and the Innovation District for a flat fare of $3. The company has been in operation for less than a year: founder Matthew George, age 23, launched in June 2014. Bridj aims to fill the gap between existing public transit routes and demand-driven services like taxi upstart Uber. And like Toronto crowdsourced Line Six, Bridj aims to alleviate the alienating, often uncomfortable service characteristic of many mass transit service operators. Bridj vans have wi-fi, comfortable seating, and as of today introduced a new app to allow users to book trips in advance and track the shuttle in real time. The company promises that users’ walk to a shuttle will always be less than 12 minutes.

Will demand-based services, driven by users’ data, revolutionize transit? Can they fill the gaps left by transit underfunding? And can they offer what traditional transit has not–a more pleasant experience?

 

Funding shortfalls are common among cities, as this year’s municipal elections have shown. While many governments are turning to public-private partnerships to fund expensive projects, they also work with community organizations, social enterprises, and non-profit groups to implement projects and run programs such as affordable housing for seniors and job placement services for youth. Crowdfunding could represent another aspect of cost-sharing that municipalities could use to help pay for services and projects that have strong support of municipal staff and the public. I’ve written before about participatory budgeting in Vancouver, Calgary, Guelph, and Toronto and posted last month about a crowdfunded bus proposal originating in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

RaiseanArm.org is a civic crowdfunding website created by Abdullah Mayo and the Hamilton Stewardship Council to give the public more of a say in public spending. Building on crowdsourced models common among start-ups and entrepreneurs which allow innovative ideas to find funding from many small donors online, the website aims to allow citizens to suggest ideas for the city. Spacehive in the UK, the world’s first civic crowdfunding site, currently has 359 projects such as recreation facilities, public art, and building restoration projects–50 are now fully funded. Citizeninvestor in the US features projects from $2,500 bike rack installations or tree planting all the way up to $200,000 public parks.

RaiseanArm has worked with the City of Hamilton to investigate the feasibility and legalities of crowdfunding in Ontario. RaiseanArm staff will bring ideas to the City to find out if the project is feasible or already being done in the Hamilton. If the idea were approved by the City, the project would be posted in the website and citizens would be able to pledge financial support or volunteer their services to get the project completed. While Mayo is excited to begin with local projects, he would like to gather support from across Canada and eventually expand to projects across the country.

A couple of enterprising folks are proposing a crowdfunded bus from Liberty Village to Union Station in Toronto, to provide an alternative to the overcrowded 504 King streetcar. The King line, the busiest streetcar line in Toronto, carries 60,000 commuters daily.

Taylor Scollon and Brett Chang have founded Line Six, aiming to run a pilot project from October 6-10th. In less than a month, they have raised $1,450 of the $2,500 cost of bus insurance and rights. The TTC has exclusive rights to charge for transit in the city, so Line Six will not charge a fare and will operate as a chartered service would. This type of “bottom-up” service aimed at solving a pressing need that the transit authority cannot (or will not) address is common in other parts of the world. For example, in the Philippines, two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles, as well as larger jeepneys, are family-run businesses that run informal routes throughout metropolitan areas, even in rural and suburban settings. They offer an alternative to the extensive bus and train network in larger cities. New York City’s dollar vans were born during a 1980s transit strike. Many of the routes are set up to meet the needs of immigrant workers in the metropolitan area, operating in areas where gaps exist in existing transit–they are not permitted to pick up passengers on MTA’s bus routes. Journalist Zoe Rosenberg (Curbed) reported in July 2014 that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has issued 481 licences to dollar vans since 1994, and many more operate without licences. When Hurricane Sandy forced the MTA to shut down operations, dollar vans kept running.

Such solutions can be legally difficult in Canada because of monopolies. Two years ago, students set up a cheap bus service for students to get from Toronto to Kingston during the holidays. They were forced to stop because Coach Canada has an exclusive contract for bus service between the two cities. When the students aimed to start a Toronto-London service they received a sternly-worded letter from Greyhound Canada, which holds the exclusive contract. Years before, a student-established bus service eventually resulted in a new Greyhound route to the University of Waterloo.

However, private solutions can work–residents in a group of condos on Queens Quay pay for shuttle bus service to various destinations within the city through their condo fees. The service has been around for 30 years. Employers in far-flung locales have also been known to pony up for shuttles if their employees all live far from the area–Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s headquarters on Montreal Road in Ottawa once offered this service to employees.

If transit were a soft drink, it might adopt the slogan, “Transit: The Choice of a New Generation”. Evidence continues to lend support to the idea that young people in Canada and the US choose to take public transit rather than drive.

In Vancouver, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) reports a significant decline in driver’s licences among 20-24 year olds, from 70% in 2004 to just 55% in 2013. For 25-29 year olds, the rate decreased from 77% in 2004 to 67% in 2013. The only increase in the licensing rate was among older adults.

The greatest declines were seen in the municipalities that are the most urbanized and served by a substantial level of public transit…Burnaby and New Westminster’s proportion declined from 68 per cent to 50 per cent, likely due in part to the increased accessibility to transit following the construction of the Millennium Line. Richmond also saw a similar drop of nearly 20 per cent from 2003. Metro Vancouver’s data shows that the biggest year-to-year drop for both Vancouver and Richmond was in 2009 when the Canada Line opened for service. –Kenneth Chan, VanCity Buzz

A survey released recently by the The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America surveyed 18-30 year olds in ten major US cities found that 4 out of 5 wanted to live in places with a variety of transportation options. More than half (54%) said they would consider moving to another city if it had better options for getting around, and two-thirds said they access to high-quality transportation is one of the top three criteria in deciding where to live next. But transportation mismatch is prevalent in cities like Nashville, where 54% said they would like to live in areas where people have alternative transportation options to the car, but only 6% lived in such areas. In the US, the millenials (those born from 1982-2003) are the largest generation in history, which is why the study focused on this group. Click here for the survey’s topline results.

Interestingly, the travel demands of youth and young adults will be more aligned to those of older adults in the future. Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of Planners Web reports that 21% of the over-65 population in the US do not drive. Many planners advocate complete streets, transit-oriented development, and volunteer drivers in rural areas in response to the problems faced by an aging population who can no longer drive. So planners interested in providing alternative transportation solutions will be able to develop solutions that work for both the young and the young at heart.

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I’m live blogging again from the seminar and today we’ve had a tour of the redevelopment of Arnhem Centraal Station, and heard about Arnhem City-Region’s efforts to integrate land use and transportation planning. Arnhem’s station area includes local and regional bus stations and regional and international trains. It works on four levels (including underground car and parking) and is expected to be complete by the end of 2014. As you can see, there is medium-density development around the station, since there has been a rail station in this location since the mid-1800s. The current redevelopment includes office towers, but given the glut of office space in The Netherlands these may take a while to fill up.

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We also heard about TOD from our international experts, e.g. value capture tools for municipalities from Rachelle Alterman and rail developments in Armitière, and Lille from Alain l’Hostis. Alain told us about a new attempt in this area to target new development within 500m of rail stations, including specific goals for housing described in the Housing Plan. The quality criteria for TOD in this case is attractive regional railway supply, a transit-oriented urban development, high quality neighbourhood networks, quality links to the corridor, integrated planning processes, and commitment to a common future. While Lille is an internationally-known case, changes in Armitière are more recent. His work overlaps with that of Gebhart Wulfhorst, who discussed ten years of French-German collaboration through the Bahn Ville program: the first stage produced recommendations (2005) and the second focused on implementation. This was one of the few presentations to discuss combining the slower local modes with the faster regional modes: there was a focus on walking and neighbourhood mobility in Friedrichsdorf, something we never hear about in Amsterdam. Minor changes in the slow, neighbourhood network, if they were targeted in key areas, could have huge impacts on the broader regional network: Gebhart even referred to walking/walkability/neighbourhood mobility “as one of the most important success factors for TOD.”

Carey Curtis talked about overcoming implementation barriers in TOD through strong planning systems (defined roles for centers and networks), distinct policy to define TOD areas and densities, and prioritizing specific station areas. Carey’s and Jan Scheurer’s SNAMUTS tool measures accessibility of the various areas in Australian cities to determine where investment should be focused: do we focus on areas that already have good accessibility or try to improve areas with poorer accessibility? The governance model that seems to work the best at achieving TOD across cities is public-private coordination, e.g. redevelopment authorities in Australia. In Perth, Carey talked about how retailers had no experience of rail before recent TOD such as Subiaco, so they didn’t even understand that customers or employees might come to their stores by rail. But among planners, TOD has gone from specialized to generalized planning practice through mechanisms like Perth’s TOD Coordinating Committee (2001-2011).

Finally, in Zaandaam we had a tour of the rail station (about 10 minutes by train to Amsterdam) from the Municipality, which has relocated right beside the station in a new building. The station and retail street leading into the city have been redesigned following a modern take on traditional Zaanstad wood architecture; the crazy Innhotel has become iconic of the region.

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On the other side of the station, there are still problems occupying the older existing office buildings due to the economic crisis, but the municipality has gotten the provincial environmental agency to locate there. Hermann Gelissen then presented the innovative StedenbaanPlus partnership between municipalities, regions, and other stakeholders (which is not yet legally binding) to develop an integrated regional-local transportation system. Today, David Levinson talked about the interrelationship between transportation and land use using London as an example (including both induced demand and induced supply), Tax Increment Financing, impact fees, air rights, and joint development between transportation authorities and developers. Michael Neuman posed some questions about TOD, including whether the term is inspirational, what image it invokes, and how it guides good design. His problem with the term is how everything is directed towards infrastructure, rather than people, cities, livability, or design. Paul Chorus discussed the Province of North Holland Strategic Plan, which has focused on maximizing efficiency of existing infrastructure. They have had some success in concentrating 38% of residential and 49% of employment within 1200m of rail stations, and the municipalities have now the interest and willingness to move forward with this ambition (the goal is to build 50% of new homes within these areas). The province has done some really in-depth analysis of the types of transportation flows, activities, and population at each node, categorizing each as “present”, “possible”, and “promising”.

It’s been a great seminar overall, with many connections made and a really interesting mix of people from practice and research. Seeing TOD examples that aren’t perfect, and are still in a state of construction, has been really useful for those of us who aren’t from The Netherlands.

Update: today’s and yesterday’s posts have been summarized for the University of Amsterdam’s new urban planning blog: www.urbanplanningams.wordpress.com

The New Yorker has published a fascinating subway infographic showing the change in median household income along each of its subway lines. The interactive inequity-subway line graph highlights the growing income inequality between Manhattan and the other boroughs (see screen capture below). Oh, the joys of free and open Census data!

Line B from the infographic shows incomes rising from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then dropping off sharply when it reaches The Bronx

Line B from the infographic shows incomes rising from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then dropping off sharply when it reaches The Bronx

I’d love to see similar maps for other cities in the world. We know that income inequality has been increasing in Canadian cities. Transit geeks, assemble! Show us Toronto, Tokyo, London, or Paris, and smaller cities as well. And it would be really fascinating to see how BRTs and LRTs fare in this analysis.

The researchers at the Center for Neighbourhood Technology and the Center for Housing Policy have recently added to their impressive body of work on the combined costs of housing and transportation. In Losing Ground: The Struggle of Moderate Income Households to Afford the Rising Costs of Housing and Transportation, CNT and CHP have again shown why it is often more affordable overall to live in cities that are characterized as having expensive housing.

While the combined costs of housing and transportation rose in the largest 25 American municipalities, including the transportation costs in their measure of affordability has resulted in some interesting results: while Houston was the 8th most affordable city for housing, once transportation costs were considered, it dropped to 17th place. This applies to other cities like Miami, Tampa, Riverside, CA, and Los Angeles. Washington, D.C., which ranked dead last for housing affordability, had the lowest combined housing and transportation costs; following it were Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Boston. The report delves into much more detail on medium- and low-income households.

As in their other studies, CNT and CHP recommend the preservation of affordable and rental housing near job centres and transit stations, regulatory reforms like location-efficient mortgages, incentives or requirements to include affordable housing in areas with good transit access, mechanisms to ensure long-term affordability, and improvements to transit service and walkability in compact areas where housing costs are low.