The Portland Metro Policy Council, a Housing Oregon committee, adopted a position on TriMet’s proposed Transit Oriented Design (TOD) Guidelines at their October 9th meeting essentially calling upon TriMet, the Portland metro region’s public transit agency, to make a stronger commitment to affordable housing as a priority for their surplus properties. Mercedes Elizalde, Public Policy Director with Central City Concern, presented Housing Oregon’s comments at the Trimet Board of Directors October 23 meeting.

Faced with our region’s current affordable housing crisis and increasing risks of homelessness and displacement, we believe it is critical all local jurisdictions commit to aggressive and specific goals towards the development of affordable housing. We believe the proposed TriMet TOD Guidelines, as presently written, do not make a clear commitment to inclusive community building. Based on past TOD efforts and TriMet’s current engagement in the Southwest Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy, we know TriMet can do better.

Along with other community organizations who testified – including 1000 Friends of Oregon, REACH CDC, Rockwood CDC, and OPAL – we were able to convince the TriMet board to table the proposal till their January 2020 meeting. The Getting There Together Coalition, which Housing Oregon has joined, has contacted TriMet advocating they engage the community on the TOD issue prior to the January meeting.

TriMet’s own equity lens highlights where transit lines are particularly important and demonstrates the need for additional resources and protections along high frequency transit and other bus lines. While TriMet’s limited control of land and regulations for property disposition limit certain direct impacts, it is critical that TriMet commit in all the ways it can to influence and prioritize affordable housing development and preservation, and to partner with other agencies to coordinate funding and investment to make this possible.

This issue is all the more timely as Metro is considering a transportation funding measure for the November 2020 ballot, which would have a significant impact on multiple metro-area transit corridors over the next generation. Affordable housing and anti-displacement measures must be a core component of any equitable TOD program, ensuring that communities of color and low-income residents are not disparately impacted by future TriMet projects.

Housing Oregon urges TriMet and its Board of Directors to adopt specific and quantifiable goals in their TOD Guidelines including:

  • When TriMet disposes or transfers any surplus property, including property acquired prior to the adoption of the TOD policy, a minimum of eighty percent of the surplus property suitable for development as housing must first be offered for sale or long-term lease to housing authorities, nonprofit developers, and local governments that agree to develop affordable housing on the property.
  • If a housing authority, developer, or local government receives discounted surplus property from TriMet, then TriMet must require a minimum of eighty percent of the housing units constructed be dedicated to regulated affordable rental and/or affordable homeownership opportunities for lower-income households.
  • Meaningful land sale discounts of joint development sites to increase the affordability of housing projects.
  • Coordination with agencies allocating funding for affordable housing in order to align transportation and housing investments.
  • Utilize land banking as a strategy to hold value as the area develops along light rail lines and bus transit corridors.

At a minimum, the proposed TOD Guidelines should act as principles for guiding a more robust community engagement process that we believe can lead to a more equitable TOD policy. This engagement and the resulting goals help ensure communities of color and low-income communities can achieve a higher quality of life, one which includes taking advantage of future regional transit improvements.