Independence Found in Downsizing to a Transit Rich Neighborhood

Independence Found in Downsizing to a Transit Rich Neighborhood


Independent-minded Karlyn Huffman is considered a “super-user” of public transportation. Photo courtesy Silva Markham Partners

Seventy-eight year-old Yale Station Apartments resident Karlyn Huffman describes herself as outgoing and independent.

“My friends and neighbors will tell you I am a bulldog when it comes to getting out of the house every day,” she says. Huffman has health issues, and gave up her car seven years ago but nothing holds her back. “I go everywhere.”

Huffman’s independence is aided by her choice of residence in one of Denver’s newest affordable senior housing developments located in the transit- and amenity-rich neighborhood of University Hills, adjacent to a light rail station. Huffman uses both the train and bus to get to her job as a cook in the home of a prominent Denver family, to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, and to the art museum. She even makes the necessary transfers so that she can shop in Boulder.

Denver is just one of many cities in the United States that has embraced transit-oriented development. In a paper released this week, the AARP Public Policy Institute documents more than 100 examples of state, regional, and local support for development that takes advantage of the public’s investment in high frequency rail and bus service. Huffman’s experience offers a glimpse into how such projects enhance lives.

The Benefits of Transit-rich Neighborhoods

Many of Yale Station Apartment’s residents are frequent transit users, taking at least one trip every two weeks, as defined by the property manager. By that measure, Huffman could be considered a super-user of transit, taking at least three bus trips every weekday.

While she makes trips by public transportation, she does enjoy rides with friends and neighbors. She and her girlfriends enjoy dinner at Chili’s and then catch a movie, with several theatres nearby to choose from. Their neighborhood also offers a free fitness center next door, a YMCA with a pool, and several grocery stores.

Huffman’s location also has allowed her to stay in her longtime community. Yale Station Apartments are just two miles from her previous home of 20 years. “Downsizing after living in a big home was a culture shock,” Huffman acknowledges, “but you have to do what you have to do.” Nevertheless, she describes her home of five years in highly positive terms. “I most love [Yale Station Apartments] for the transportation,” she says.

A Policy Key to Affordability

Transit-oriented development is often a victim of its own success. Transit-rich neighborhoods become vibrant and sought after by buyers and renters of all ages, pushing up housing costs. The challenge now is to ensure that housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households, including older adults, be part of these new neighborhoods.

Huffman would not have been able to afford this sought-after neighborhood were it not for the reduced rent.  Yale Station Apartments offer 50 units to residents age 55 and older who have incomes of between 30 and 60 percent of the Denver region’s median income.

To make the numbers work, the developer applied to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). “Yale Station could not have come together without the support of the LIHTC,” says Carl Koebel, vice president of developer Koelbel and Company. “It’s a powerful tool to create affordable housing.”

According to Koelbel, the wait list at Yale and University Stations includes 30-40 names. Vacancy rates are less than 1 percent.

Denver isn’t the only city where developers are building affordable housing that is conveniently located near transportation amenities. Atlanta facilitates this through strong policy and funding commitments. In 2005, the Atlanta City Council legislatively mandated a goal of building 5,600 units of affordable housing over 25 years within close proximity to its Atlanta BeltLine—a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, a modern streetcar line, and parks. Reynoldstown Senior Residences is a new independent-living, affordable senior housing facility along the corridor. The development was funded in part by a $1.5 million BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund grant, and is a result of a partnership between Mercy Housing, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Two residents share their experience in this video produced by the Atlanta Beltline, Inc.

In Denver and elsewhere across the country, housing affordability is a vexing challenge and transit-oriented development is often a victim of its own success. These neighborhoods become sought after by buyers and renters of all ages, pushing up housing costs. The challenge now is to ensure that housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households, including older adults, be part of these new neighborhoods.

Stay Informed: Sign up for the AARP Livable Communities Newsletter and visit AARP.org/livable

Ablynott 50x50out the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

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Threats to Infrastructure Funding Could Undermine Successful Local Development Efforts

Threats to Infrastructure Funding Could Undermine Successful Local Development Efforts


Well-designed, transit-rich neighborhoods provide many benefits to residents of all ages, as I document in, “Independence Found in Downsizing to a Transit Rich Neighborhood.” These neighborhoods also provide dividends to the larger community, generating higher property values, rents, and revenue than real estate located further away from high quality public transportation services. Cities as diverse as Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Detroit, and Washington, DC have all strengthened their regional economies through investment in transit-oriented development (TOD).  And because their residents walk and bike more, TOD residents reap some health benefits as well.

More than 80 real estate development projects have been completed or are in progress within 1/2 mile of Atlanta’s Beltline corridor. Photo by Jana Lynott

Transit-oriented development pays for itself and then some. One study  discovered that TOD development in the Washington, DC and Baltimore regions generated between $1.13 in tax and $2.20 in non-tax revenues for every dollar spent on public services, such as schools, parks, and general government administration. Another study of five cities found that during the Great Recession, residential property values performed 42 percent better on average if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service. Neighborhoods with high-frequency public transportation provide access to up to five times as many jobs per square mile as compared to other areas in a given region. Residents also enjoy lower household transportation costs as many are able to give up one or more cars due to the abundant ways to get around the community.

Given the myriad benefits, this type of development should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, however, future development of transit-oriented neighborhoods to meet high consumer demand is in question, as the very infrastructure programs that enable cities to build the underlying transit and other infrastructure that knits these neighborhoods together is under threat.

Two key federal infrastructure programs have been instrumental in getting TOD built. They are the:

  • Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts and Small Starts Capital Investment grants; and,
  • USDOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.


Both of these programs have been targeted in the President’s FY2018 Budget for elimination.

The popular TIGER and New Starts/Small Starts grant programs respect local communities’ ability to set their own transportation priorities. They are two of the few ways that local communities can secure funds directly from the federal government for priority transportation projects. These federal dollars, in combination with an even greater share of public investment from states and localities, leverage billions of dollars in private sector investment in our communities.

The 2017 federal budget ends September 30. As Congress decides the fate of infrastructure funding in 2018, it will be essential that local officials, real estate developers, employers, and city planners have a seat at the table to inform this discussion. We have learned a tremendous amount from their collective experience over the past 20 years and can now quantify the extensive benefits of investing in a closely linked land use and transportation infrastructure strategy. Road investment is important but just one piece of the puzzle. The economic strength of our urban areas requires strong investment in public transportation.

Most communities cannot raise enough revenue to build the supporting infrastructure on their own. They need the federal government as a partner in revitalizing local and regional economies, of which the future of the nation depends. The payback will come in many ways.

Stay Informed: Sign up for the AARP Livable Communities Newsletter and check out our Livability Index AARP.org/livabilityindex

Ablynott 50x50out the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

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Innovation brings new transportation option to rural America

Innovation brings new transportation option to rural America


Most of us take our mobility for granted. We grab our keys and head out to work, buy groceries, and shuttle our kids to movies and soccer practice—all without a second thought. But for the one-third of Americans who don’t drive and many others who lack access to a working vehicle, transportation options don’t come easy—especially in rural America, where transportation has long been a seemingly intractable problem.

The technology revolution is showing potential to help solve that problem and enable more Americans to take part in the economic and social lives of their communities. One new and promising service is Liberty.

The Robinson family at a neighbor’s dairy farm

 

21st Century Model Meets Rural America

Liberty has been described as the Uber for rural America, since it connects riders to drivers through a mobile app similar to those used by Lyft and Uber. But to founder and CEO Valerie Lefler, “Liberty is about more than just giving rides. It’s about providing Mobility as a Service.”

The company engages local partners to identify a community’s transportation gaps and then works to fill them. Liberty charges customers $1.10 to book and $1 dollar per mile on average. In addition to the app, customers can schedule rides through Liberty’s call center. Liberty uses area-specific mobility managers who provide a direct line of communication to customers and also work to build partnerships in the community.

Just launched in 2016, Liberty’s rural strategy has already brought it to three states (Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota), with seven total expected by year’s end. Applications to bring service to more than 60 counties in 2018 could mean the company will be operating in 16 states by the end of next year.

Target Market Typified

Yankton, S.D., (county population 22,616) epitomizes rural transportation challenges. Buses require a 24-hour advance reservation and only operate weekdays 7:30 to 4:30, and taxicab supply doesn’t meet demand.

The city recently was able to secure a $25,000 grant from the local economic development corporation to bring Liberty to Yankton County. The Mayor took an inaugural ride on June 30.

“They are not looking to own the market, but fill gaps in the service,” said City Commissioner Nathan Johnson, who was instrumental in bringing Liberty to town.

Beth Robinson was one of Liberty’s first customers. Robinson is a mother of three children and a family caregiver for her husband, Chris, who has a terminal heart defect and uses a wheelchair part-time. Since the onset of Chris’ illness in 2010, Beth’s caregiving responsibilities have prevented her from working outside the home. The family relies almost exclusively on Chris’ disability income.

Locating rental housing that was both affordable and accessible in town proved challenging. They rented a five bedroom farmhouse outside town at about half the price of a three bedroom apartment in Yankton. But soon after moving, their vehicle broke down. It’s been out of service ever since.

Then Beth discovered Liberty. Chris, after catching an accessible bus for the 17-mile journey into town, was unable to schedule his return trip. Liberty does not yet have access to accessible vehicles in Yankton, but the area manager and her husband, a liberty driver, came through. They lifted the 150-pound wheelchair into the back of a small SUV and got Chris safely home, groceries and all.

“That had us for customers for life after that,” said Beth.

Since then, the family has taken 6-7 Liberty trips—to buy groceries, check out books from the library, and get her kids to a summer cooking class.

Stay Informed: Sign up for the AARP Livable Communities Newsletter and visit AARP.org/livable

Whether innovative companies such as Liberty will be able to survive in resource-constrained rural markets and whether they can complement, rather than compete with, existing public transportation are open questions. To enter a market, such services will likely need start-up funds and local partners who can help subsidize trips for those unable to pay the full cost of a ride. But the enthusiasm communities have shown for this service gives hope that a generations-old problem for rural America just might have a solution. Such issues and solutions will be explored in more detail in future blog posts.

lynott 50x50About the author: Jana Lynott is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

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Building Livable Communities for All Ages in Washington, D.C.


Affordable Housing development

New affordable housing development near Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station.

 

Many perceive Washington, DC as being a livable community. It has plenty of shops, interesting neighborhoods, fun destinations, lively streets, and transit options.

Yet is the nation’s capital truly livable? A livable community is livable for people of all ages. Shops should include stores with healthy food choices and pharmacies, while interesting neighborhoods mean housing for diverse household types. Fun destinations should feature not just costly options, but recreation centers, libraries, and parks.  Lively streets should be safe for pedestrians, bikes, and cars.

A look at the city’s livability status and efforts going forward highlight the kinds of successes and challenges for many cities across the country.

Top 10 Success

Fortunately, the nation’s capital does boast many positive livability features. Washington ranks in the top 10 livable large cities, according to AARP’s Livability Index: Great Neighborhoods for All Ages. The Index helps communities  determine how well they meet the needs of residents across their lifespan. Livability attributes benefiting older residents typically benefit younger ones as well.

The Index measures indicators across seven categories: health, environment (air and water quality), social and civic engagement; accessible and affordable housing; transportation; supportive services; and economic and educational opportunity. In our latest update, the District receives a livability score of 59 –higher than the average of 50, scoring best in engagement, transportation, and neighborhood.

Eyeing Livability 2.0

DC, like all communities no matter how successful, still has work to do. As the Index shows, the nation’s capital faces challenges in features related to the environment and to opportunity, and it also is working to meet the needs of its residents as they age. As a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, the District is making livability a top priority. The District’s age-friendly action plan, based on community assessment and input, addresses affordable housing, social isolation, and neighborhood safety. A recent progress report highlights achievements such as an intergenerational housing complex, an expansion of affordable units targeting very-low income residents, and a partnership to obtain transportation for older adult residents.

Yet success often brings challenges. Features that make cities more livable and attractive can push housing demand and prices higher. As a result, retaining and building affordable housing, especially in popular urban areas, become increasingly difficult. Sure enough, the Index shows Washington struggling with high housing-related costs and a lower-than-average rate of accessible homes for people with limited mobility. Washington is not alone in grappling with how to ensure that everyone has a place to live, for this is happening across the country.

The District is addressing its affordability and housing challenges through strategies such as low-income housing tax credits, inclusionary zoning, and funding for services for homeless families.  In 2016, the city committed $100 million to its Housing Production Trust Fund. The investment will fund 12 new developments including a project consisting of units specifically slated for older adults. Other new and renovated housing units add more affordable options. Many such units are close to public transportation, neighborhood amenities, and social services.  Additionally, the city helps older adults and people with disabilities renovate homes with features that make them safer. These policies all help residents to remain in their communities as prices rise.

A Vision Requiring Collaboration

Meanwhile, the work continues in many communities.  As DC shows, achieving greater livability for everyone requires a strong collaboration among residents, businesses, agencies, local organizations, and developers. Partners can provide key data, add their perspectives, and share expertise—ultimately resulting in effective and innovative solutions that improve communities and address challenges.

Neighborhood Amenities

Community services and amenities along Rhode Island Avenue and 12th St. NE.

 

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 Shannon Guzman is a policy research senior analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she works on housing, transportation and land-use issues. Shannon focuses on policies and programs that create livable communities for people of all ages. For more information about livable communities visit, www.aarp.org/livable. Photo: DFinney



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We Must Make Our Communities More Livable for All

We Must Make Our Communities More Livable for All


This post originally appeared in the IAGG 2017 Bridge blog.

Across the globe populations are aging, and this far-reaching change is happening much faster than most people realize. In just five years, the number of older persons will surpass one billion; they are already a fast-growing presence in cities and towns of all sizes, every region and all segments of society.

 

Photo courtesy of Dan Burden

This change provides countries across the globe with a great opportunity, because older individuals have so much to offer the communities where they live. But making the most of it will require vision and innovative thinking.

Fortunately, we have a growing body of knowledge about what it takes to make a community more “age friendly.” And it is becoming clearer all the time that cities and towns that embrace this priority are rewarded with a better quality of life for all their residents. There really is no alternative, because demographic trends are transforming societies around the world whether they are prepared or not.

Consider these numbers:

  • For the first time in human history, by 2030, the number of people age 60 and over will exceed the number of children age 10 and under, an unprecedented demographic milestone that signals new challenges – and opportunities – for institutions, communities, government and the private sector.
  • Our very notion of what it means to be “old” is changing profoundly. A 10-year-old in the United States now has a 50 percent chance of living to age 104. By 2050, the United States is projected to have more than 1 million centenarians.

 

Nations and local communities that take steps to become more livable for all will have the advantage over those that do not. The good news is that practical models on improving communities to be age friendly are available. Pioneering work by the World Health Organization (WHO) provides many insights into how communities can promote healthy, active aging and support inclusion and engagement that benefits all their residents.

The WHO also sponsors a Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities that share insights on best practices and lessons learned. AARP is committed to making this information more available, and in 2012 we created the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities to further that goal, in affiliation with the WHO.

These age-friendly networks highlight eight domains of livability that help shape quality of life for people of all ages: Outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; community and health services.

Importantly, Alexandre Kalache, who helped create the WHO network, points out that age-friendly features do far more than just help seniors, they help everyone. Take the example of a bus that is designed for easy access. “If it is easy for an older person to get in and out of this bus, it is going to be more (accessible) to a child or a teenager, to a pregnant woman or to someone carrying her luggage.”

Design, land use and infrastructure all help pave the way for people to stay engaged in the world around them. But Kalache notes that for a place to be truly age friendly, inclusiveness must become a broadly shared cultural value. As he puts it, such a community is a place “where the attitude is right – from the policymakers to the service providers to the population as a whole…”

 

Age-Friendly Communities

Promoting the value of inclusion requires a multi-faceted effort. Age-friendly communities should have physical infrastructures and offer services that help residents of all ages live active, engaged and secure lives. They should enact  policies and rules (e.g., zoning and land use regulations) that create an accessible built environment and ensure affordable and convenient housing alternatives.

Age-friendly communities should provide transportation options that meet the varied needs of residents, including easy access to health care and retail shopping for basic necessities. They should keep the environment clean and public spaces safe and free of crime.

Age-friendly communities should give residents access to housing that is located near crucial services, such as transportation, health care, retail and recreation. Available housing should include choices that meet the needs of residents of all ages, including families with kids and those with grandparents.

All of these things make it easier for people to live the way they want to. And the fact is that most of us want the chance to age in our homes and communities for as long as possible. AARP surveys consistently show that older people desperately want to hold on to their independence and avoid moving into nursing institutions.

Yet obstacles often stand in the way of living independently and securely, particularly as we get older. Take the basic example of walking safely to the store or strolling around the block. In the United States, adults 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population, yet they suffer nearly 20 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Communities can do better. As a start, they should make changes to street, crosswalk and sidewalk design, maintenance, and signage. Poor infrastructure is also often the cause of older adult falls and falls are the cause of 68 percent of older adults’ hospitalizations.

 

Engagement, Foresight and Inclusiveness

Importantly, age-friendly places recognize older adults as the community assets that they are. They know that older residents offer experience and perspective that should be taken advantage of when it comes to planning, implementation and evaluation of programs and policies. They understand that in the process, the benefit flows in both directions: Older adults who get involved benefit personally from a sense of purpose and engagement, while the community gets the value of their experience. Inclusion leads to better decisions that help everyone.

An inclusive approach to age-friendly planning also raises awareness of changes affecting communities and the needs of residents. Noteworthy changes include the growing role of grandparents in raising grandchildren, the increase in multigenerational families, and growing ethnic and racial diversity in older age groups. An inclusive approach also seeks out input from a diverse set of older residents who may offer insights and solutions that would otherwise be overlooked. Further, age-friendly planning recognizes that as the population ages, there will be an increasing number of individuals with disabilities who rely on local services to stay independent.

 

Commitment and On-the-Ground Action

AARP’s goal is to help people live more easily and comfortably as they age and it has been gratifying to see that this goal is widely shared. Since its start in 2012, the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities has boomed, with a membership that has now reached 163 localities that are home to more than 64 million people living all over the United States. These are communities of all shapes and sizes – from small towns and rural counties to cities as large as Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.

AARP state offices work with local officials and activists across the network to promote age friendliness, and our communities have shown real leadership to prepare for demographic change rather than passively wait for it.

Within the network, we’ve seen a wide range of programs and successes.

  • Portland, Oregon adjusted zoning codes and reduced municipal fees to make it easier for homeowners to add an accessory dwelling unit (or granny-flat), which can help residents to age in place.
  • New York City added 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters, providing resting places for pedestrians and encouraging bus ridership, particularly in locations where older riders were likely to board.
  • Washington, DC engaged over 500 volunteers in a multigenerational block-by-block walk program to identify pedestrian challenges such as broken sidewalks, missing curb cuts, and traffic signals that don’t allow safe crossing. It also introduced a free mobile app so people can report problems directly to transportation officials.
  • Macon-Bibb County in central Georgia undertook a series of improvements to Tattnall Square Park, such as numerous resting facilities and a new gateway, in order to make the park more accessible and enjoyable for all.
  • Westchester County, New York established a program to coach family caregivers who are often faced with difficult tasks in caring for loved ones who want to remain in the community.

 

Given the breadth of issues that age-friendliness must address, this work requires a local government commitment from the very top – one that filters down through every department to frontline workers. Age friendliness has to work for everyone, so it is vital that local officials and planners work across silos and reach into other disciplines to find holistic solutions. I am heartened by the extent to which age-friendly awareness is increasingly embraced by disciplines as varied as planning, architecture, real estate development and zoning, as well as increasing examples of cross-sector collaboration.

To support this multi-discipline approach, in March AARP sponsored a Summit on Livable Communities, which brought together two key organizations representing different disciplines – the American Society on Aging and the American Planning Association. The summit included 250 aging network professionals and local/regional planners, who talked about ways to work across professional silos to advance livable communities for all people, regardless of their age or ability. I believe some great partnerships were formed during the event, and look forward to hearing about future accomplishments.

We now know that people of all ages want their communities to be age friendly, whether they live in small villages, big cities or suburbs. The need is growing and not just in the developed world. By mid-century, one in five people in developing countries will be over 60. Communities of all sizes, all stages of development and in all regions of the world will benefit by making age friendliness a priority.

Building on our existing knowledge about age friendliness to find new and more effective approaches should be a priority in communities all over, and AARP is committed to helping.

Across the globe, community leaders cannot afford to ignore their aging populations. Everyone will benefit when we embrace this change and work together to prepare for the future.

 

Debra Whitman is AARP’s chief public policy officer and leads policy development, analysis and research, as well as global thought leadership that supports and advances the interests of older people and their families. Follow Deb on Twitter: @policydeb



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