Report: Affordable housing needed in areas with transit access to jobs

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Neighborhoods across much of the central Washington region have excellent transit access for getting residents to jobs, but housing costs may make those areas unaffordable to many workers, according to a new report.

Eighty-eight percent of residents in the Washington area live in neighborhoods with access to transit of some kind, according to the report, slated to be released Friday from the Brookings Institution.

"The picture is good," said study co-author Nicole Prchal Svajlenka. "It's great for a Washington-area resident who lives in Arlington, Alexandria, the District of Columbia or within the Beltway."

Best areas for accessing jobs via transit
1. Downtown-midtown D.C.
2. North central D.C.
3. Northeast D.C./Capitol Hill
4. Arlington County
5. West of Rock Creek, D.C.
6. East of the Anacostia River, D.C.
7. Alexandria
8. Silver Spring-Takoma Park
9. College Park-Adelphi-Chillum
10. Bladensburg-Riverdale-New Carrollton

But, she noted, "If people can't afford to live there, it's not a benefit."

The study found that a low-skill worker living alone could not afford the median rent in any area within the region, assuming housing costs should not account for more than 30 percent of annual earnings.

Locally, 15 percent of workers use public transportation to get to their jobs, compared with 5 percent nationally. But the figures range widely within the region in terms of access to transit and how many people use it. All of the District has transit access, according to the study, and almost 40 percent use it to commute to work. But only 2 percent of Loudoun County residents use transit.

The report analyzed how well transit connects the region's 4.9 million people with the 2.9 million local jobs. A neighborhood was considered to have transit access if a resident lives within three-quarters of a mile of at least one bus stop, Metrorail station or commuter train stop and can use it to get to a job within 90 minutes by one-way trip. Svajlenka acknowledges that could mean long trips for workers, but she said the authors wanted to be inclusive.

All Arlington County residents have access to transit, by this measure. They also have the shortest commutes, with an average of 27 minutes whether they take transit, drive alone or carpool. Arlington boasts the highest proportion of highly educated workers, with 69 percent having a bachelor's or advanced degree.

Living close to transit can mean workers can save on commuting costs by not owning a car or buying gas, but housing costs can make it difficult for low-income workers to take advantage of those savings.

Many transit users earn middle to high incomes and live in households with at least one car. About 10 percent of households don't own a car, but nearly a quarter of low-income households, or 23 percent, don't have one.

The under-construction Silver Line and the planned Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, plus the Columbia Pike streetcar connecting Arlington and Fairfax, will help connect more workers to jobs, the report says.

But the authors say local leaders need to do better at coordinating land-use, housing and transit planning to create denser concentrations of transit-accessible jobs and housing at all affordability levels. The report also urges more development around underused Metro stations such as in Prince George's and in the eastern portion of the District.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner