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More affordable housing through transit

With the development of the Tutuban to Clark commuter railway, the Mega Manila Subway, and the Edsa bus rapid transit, we can expect improvements in the livability and environmental quality of our city in terms of walkable communities oriented around transit stations, and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the development of fixed-route public transit tends to increase land and housing prices around transit stations, making it difficult or even impossible for low-income families to afford to live there and, in some cases, displacing existing residents. This problem is especially acute in high-cost places where the transit system provides good connection to businesses and other important destinations for example, the Edsa corridor served by MRT-3.

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Without addressing this problem, the result of a public transit development can be both inequitable and likely to undermine the environmental benefits of expanding public transit by making access difficult for the population most likely to use it. Lower-income families often rely on public transit to get to work and school as well as to access other important services. Older adults and people with disabilities who are unable or prefer not to drive also depend on buses and trains to meet their transportation needs.

The solution is to coordinate transportation and housing policy in a manner that simultaneously: (a) increases the number of residents living in close proximity to public transit; (b) fosters walkable communities centered around new and existing transit stations; and (c) preserves or expands affordable housing near these stations. By acting early, communities can make the most of opportunities to preserve and create affordable housing as part of the development that takes place around new or planned transit stations.

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OPINION

To ensure that lower-income households can afford to live near public transit, government needs to take proactive steps to preserve existing affordable housing in areas that are currently well-served by public transit or where new service is planned, before housing and land prices increase dramatically. Government must also adopt policies to incentivize or require the inclusion of socialized housing within new developments near planned transit stations, and prioritize the development of new affordable units on sites near or adjacent to planned transit stations.

An effective strategy is to have joint development agreements on land owned by transit authorities, specifically the DOTr and PNR. Joint development is a process by which public transit agencies agree to make land available for private development, which includes affordable housing. Joint development enables public transit agencies to sell or lease land around existing or planned public transportation stations to private developers for residential and other uses, including the development of affordable housing. The inclusion of an affordable housing component in joint developments located in transit-adjacent areas can help to ensure equitable access to public transportation for households at all income levels, as well as mitigate gentrification or displacement concerns that may arise when new transit systems and stations are planned and constructed.

The DOTr and PNR have land that could be used to create affordable housing opportunities for low-income households. Both agencies own or have development rights to a considerable amount of land, are involved in real estate development whenever a new transit station or right-of-way is developed, and rely on transit-dependent households to keep up ridership numbers. Joint development of transit agency-owned land by private partners can help expand the supply of affordable housing while also increasing ridership by facilitating access to transit by lower-income households.

The DHSUD can play a role by encouraging and facilitating partnerships with the DOTr and PNR, and by offering technical assistance on housing development. The DHSUD may also make funding or financing available to facilitate the development of housing through the joint development process. Because of the strong relationship between housing cost, location, and transportation, a partnership among the DHSUD, DOTr, and PNR holds particular promise in meeting the need for affordable housing.

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Nathaniel von Einsiedel ([email protected]) is a fellow of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, and currently the principal urban planner of CONCEP Inc.

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TAGS: affordable housing, Commentary, Nathaniel von Einsiedel, Public transportation
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