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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Visualizing the Housing Gap – the 2017 LTSS Scorecard

Visualizing the Housing Gap – the 2017 LTSS Scorecard


If you look at the 2017 Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Scorecard, you may notice that something is different in this third edition– housing and transportation indicators are included for the first time. Affordable and accessible housing and transportation options are key components of a livable community. Having options that people can access, regardless of their age, income, physical ability or other factors brings them closer to the community features and services they need to remain engaged in their communities.

AARP’s Livability Index gives higher housing scores to neighborhoods in counties with more subsidized (sometimes known as affordable) housing, as it ensures that people of all incomes can have access to a place to live. One of the elements of a high-functioning LTSS system is that it gives people choices about where to live and receive services. Affordable housing is essential to shifting the delivery of LTSS from an institutional model towards home and community-based care. However, a major barrier to transitioning people out of institutions and back to their communities is the lack of affordable and accessible housing options. The Scorecard includes a measure of the supply of subsidized housing at the state level, an important resource to help individuals with lower incomes and LTSS needs stay in the community and receive services at home or in a community setting.

This Scorecard measure captures the total amount of subsidized housing opportunities—spanning many different programs—divided by the total number of housing units in a state.  The total number of subsidized housing opportunities has risen since 2011, but it still falls short of current and future needs.

This chart shows the supply of subsidized housing opportunities in each state in 2015 (blue bars), the improvement from four years earlier (red line), and the gap in affordable housing opportunities (light blue solid area). Nationally, there are more than 18 million renters at or below area median income (most of whom are cost-burdened by housing) and fewer than 8 million potentially subsidized units.  There is still an affordable housing crisis in our country.

The solution seems simple – we should build more of this housing. Federal programs such as Section 202 have historically built new affordable housing for older adults with low incomes. However, the federal government has stopped funding new construction of this and similar programs, and fewer affordable apartments are available under these programs. Vouchers have become more popular due to their efficiency, but holders may have a hard time finding appropriate housing and landlords who will accept their voucher in more livable neighborhoods.  Those counting on a subsidized unit might find that there are not enough available in a helpful location.

Decades ago, we did not anticipate that people with LTSS needs would stay in their communities, so most of our neighborhoods were not designed for their needs. While communities work to build more housing with “universal design” features, many units may have steps and other barriers that are problematic for those with LTSS needs.  This must change if our communities are going to meet the goal of providing options for all people of all ages.

The good news is that there are more opportunities today (the blue bars in the chart) than in the past (the red line) as vouchers have increased and programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program build more units. States can help by allocating these tax credits in ways that enhance livability, developing housing trust funds, grants or loan programs, or taking other steps. However, it is clear that government cannot solve this alone, especially when proposals to build new affordable housing meet objections. Building livable communities for all must be a goal for all – not just policymakers, but builders, homeowners, residents and neighbors.

 

Join Dr. Harrell and other AARP experts for a twitter chat to discuss housing needs and the LTSS Scorecard at 1pm EDT on July 19.  Join the conversation using #PickUpthePace and share your questions and insights.

 

Rodney Harrell, PhD, is Director of Livable Communities for the AARP Public Policy Institute. His expertise includes neighborhood choice, housing affordability and accessibility, transit-oriented development, community redevelopment, sustainable community initiatives and other livable communities issues.

Follow Dr. Harrell on FacebookTwitterPinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.

 

 



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Disrupting Housing: Younger Generations Leading the Way to Develop a Model for Ageless Homes

Disrupting Housing: Younger Generations Leading the Way to Develop a Model for Ageless Homes


Every person, regardless of age, can participate in creating a livable community. According to a newly published report from Generations United, opportunities that bring different generations together—even the tougher ones involving “tack[ling] critical problems” benefit the entire community.

Though somewhat counterintuitive, finding solutions to meet the needs of older adults must involve voices and collaboration coming from people of all ages. Various generations offer different perspectives, and in fact, people of all ages gain value from age friendly concepts. A recent project we led proved to be a living example.

A Winning Project

The likelihood of having a disability that limits a person’s mobility increases with age. Homes with physical barriers can present risk of falls and injuries, especially for someone with mobility challenges. In 2016, AARP and its partners called for submissions to a competition-style project that sought new solutions for homes that best accommodate our needs as we age. “Re-Defining Home: Home Today, Home Tomorrow,” developed through AARP’s Future of Housing Initiative, asked architects to redesign an existing home while embracing the concept of universal design—that is, design that supports and empowers all people and families: retirees, caregivers and their loved ones, people with disabilities, singles, and young and multigenerational families.

AARP and partners renovated a home in Memphis, TN to incorporate universal design features to accommodate the needs of residents as they age. New features include an open space floor plan with flexible space, wide hallways and spacious bathroom with a curb-less shower.
Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

Entrants were challenged to discard typical designs usually targeted towards older adults such as ramps or shower handrails. Rather, competition judges wanted to see evidence of innovative thinking around how affordability, flexibility, community, accessibility, beauty and functionality could best be reflected in a home for people who want to remain in their homes as they age.

Accessible features

Designers incorporated features that provide opportunities to engage the community. Front yard planters can become a community garden. Large windows invite interaction with neighbors.   Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

The winning team included three junior architects, from IBI Group—Gruzen Samton, Gabriel Espinoza, Carmen Velez, and Timothy Gargiulo—professionals under age 30. Their designs considered what it means to age in place successfully: creating an easily navigable home, incorporating features to reduce fall risks, as well as creating space to nurture and maintain family and community connections. Ms. Velez no doubt drew from her own experience living with her grandmother, Carmencita Bengzon, to help inform the team’s choices. Ultimately, this winning team’s original and imaginative plans were incorporated into a house in Memphis, TN—now the home of a veteran and his family, including his mom, who has limited mobility.

Winning team; veteran family

IBI Group—Gruzen Samton architects, Gabriel Espinoza, Timothy Gargiulo, and Carmen Velez speak about their winning designs at the home renovation reveal (left). Mr. Walter Moody and his mother, see their “ageless” home for the first time (right). Photo: Benjamin Rednour

 

Also achieving success in age disruption was the entry from 11-year old Jennifer Haage, a self-described future architect. (Yes, that’s right—when we say all ages should contribute, we mean all ages.) In her thoughtful and comprehensive proposal, Jenny shared her ideas for aging within a home suitable for all families. Her designs included using wide hallways for wheelchair accessibility, creating multi-functional spaces, adding in interior and exterior green spaces, and incorporating a “cat corner,” since pets can be great companionship for older adults who may feel isolated.

Renderings by Jennifer Haage

Designs from Jennifer Haage, age 11, who shared her vision for an “ageless” home. Photo: Jennifer Haage

 

All-Ages Approach a Winning Combination

The Re-Defining Home competition illustrates how accessible home design can be duplicated across the country.  The winning team exemplifies younger generations taking action to solve pressing issues that make stronger communities for all. Encouraging and inspiring young people to participate in aging issues can positively impact their families, careers and communities—and help us to make places more livable for people, both today and tomorrow.

 

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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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