New Jersey has long been a leader in affordable housing law and transit-oriented development (TOD). But rarely have the two efforts been coordinated. As a result, costly commutes clog the roads and pollute the air, because low- and moderate-income workers are unable to find housing near their work.
Today, most of the New Jersey housing affordable to low-income families, seniors and the disabled remains concentrated in economically depressed urban areas such as Camden and Newark, which are predominantly African-American and Hispanic. But the lack of affordable housing has hit moderate-income families hard as well. Teachers, firefighters and police officers are among those who are often priced out of living near where they work. That is one reason why NJ suffers the third worst commute in the nation (30 minutes each way)—and the second most polluted air.
The lack of affordable housing has taken a serious toll on the state’s economy, too. Study after study cites high housing costs as a top reason why businesses and residents are increasingly moving out of New Jersey to relocate to more affordable states, such as nearby Pennsylvania.
Transit-oriented development is an area where New Jersey has a particularly strong opportunity to meet the state’s affordable housing goals. The state enjoys one of the nation’s largest public transportation networks and is second only to New York in the percentage of residents who commute to work by public transit, according to Census data. Providing housing near transit also helps cut costs for low-income workers, who spend more on transportation than any other need besides housing.
Fair Share Housing Center’s TOD project focuses intensely on municipalities along transit corridors where redevelopment is most likely to occur, including those receiving substantial new transit investment through construction of the nation’s largest transit project, the ARC Tunnel. In the past several years, our work along those lines has led to requirements for over 1000 units in TODs that, but for our work, would not exist. Our goal is to ensure that more TODs get approved in key corridors, and when the TODs are approved they include a range of housing types, including housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
Fair Share Housing Center’s TOD work seeks to combine the nation’s most progressive statewide affordable housing requirements with the nation’s largest public transportation system in order to create hundreds of new affordable housing opportunities each year for lower-income households. The creation of such units, often without any public subsidy, can provide a national “best practices” model for how to create affordable housing opportunities near public transit.