Transit-Oriented Development


Transportation and the Future City

                On November 4th, registered Austin voters were given the opportunity to pass judgment on a billion dollar rail line transportation initiative.  A controversial ballot measure that would eventually fail to pass, the moment highlighted a growing sentiment that the American people’s overreliance on personal automobiles is an unsustainable practice.  As global populations increasingly flock to urban centers, international urban planners have been confronted with new challenges.  Progressive policy makers are realizing that city-dwellers prefer walkable, dense cities driven by smart growth.  In response to these desires, new public transportation models are being developed to reduce highway congestion and to promote environmentally friendly commuting.

Transportation and Affordable Housing 

                This period of American transportation reconsideration, has simultaneously stimulated exciting conversations regarding future opportunities for affordable housing.  As the severity of the current affordable housing crisis crystalizes, transit-oriented housing development represents a powerful solution.  For low income families, the ability to live without a car would prove a substantial monetary boon.  Most estimates report that ownership of a car costs on average $8,000/year/vehicle.  Hong Kong is one global leader in this emphasis on transit-oriented affordable housing, building around 1.4 million homes adjacent to rail and metro stations over the past forty years.  In a study published by TransForm and the California Housing Partnership Corporation, participants living within a quarter-mile of a major public transportation hub were fifty percent more likely to travel without a car.  The same study maintained that since their inception fifty-five years ago, a collection of transit-oriented complexes had reportedly eliminated an estimated 5.7 billion miles of driving by its renting population.  Proponents of the transit-oriented development model point to the positive impacts of public transportation usage for both low income families and the city as a whole. 

Denver’s Bold New Strategy

                One American city that is poised to make strides in expanding affordable housing via transit-oriented development is Denver, CO.  Since 2004, when Denver voters approved a comprehensive new transportation schema, the city has witnessed incredible results.  One of the founding members of the Denver-area nonprofit Mile High Connects, Melinda Pollack, has reported that her agency plans on overseeing the construction of 2,000 affordable housing units alongside proposed rail lines over the course of the next 10 years.  Further, Denver is the first city in the country to produce a fund specifically for transit-oriented development.  According to its representatives, the fund has already purchased eight units of low income housing, allowing for the creation and rehabilitation of 626 affordable units.  Over the course of the next decade, the city of Denver has ambitiously positioned itself as the West’s great transportation leader.  After becoming well recognized for drastically reducing the city’s population experiencing chronic homelessness, it might also become the model for thoughtfully increasing access to affordable housing.

The 9x18 Plan   

                In New York City, some innovative minds have developed the so-called “9 x 18 Plan,” that demonstrates how reducing the number of car-dependent citizens can broaden new opportunities for affordable housing.  Named after the dimensions of a common parking space, the plan aims to lessen American construction’s wasteful, expensive reliance upon parking spots.  Rather than reserving a personal space for every unit, the “9 x 18 Plan” posits that developers construct only as many parking places as necessary for the particular complex.  The thinking follows that those individuals living in units based near public transportation would be less dependent on private transportation methods, and thus those renters would not utilize their available parking space.  Instead of wasting money on underused parking spaces, the plan maintains that free spaces could be converted into more affordable housing, store fronts, and green space.  This proposition makes the development of transit-oriented development potentially even more enticing, revealing how the reduction of private transportation can create an avenue for further in-fill development, and the creation of affordable housing.


                The current enthusiasm for international cities has created two inter-related problems: a lack of affordable housing and traffic congestion.  Both issues pose long-term development obstacles to efficient urban development.  However, it is becoming increasingly apparent, that these two issues can be addressed in tandem.  Expansion of urban public transportation options creates new opportunities for the creation of low income housing.  Close proximity to public transportation allows low income families to either use their private vehicle less, or to forego ownership of a car all together.  By connecting low income people to public transportation networks, they are delivered greater access to their home city’s resources.  At the same time, increased usage of public transportation decreases the number of drivers on the roadways.  Transit-oriented development provides benefits for all urban citizens, and a brave new direction for modern cities.        


Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternate housing arrangements and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing. Diversion programs can reduce the number of families becoming homeless, the demand for shelter beds, and the size of program wait lists.

Join Texas Homeless Network for an upcoming Diversion Training by expert Ed Boyle from the Cleveland Mediation Center. In Cleveland, they have found that by using this client-centered, conflict resolution approach, many persons seeking a shelter bed are able to stay housed.

This two-day training is free! Register now: http://bit.ly/1sf7VHp

Dates and Locations:

Lubbock - Monday, November 3 & Tuesday, November 4

Denton - Thursday, November 6 & Friday, November 7

Tyler - Monday, November 17 & Tuesday, November 18

Texarkana - Thursday, November 20 & Friday, November 21

Waco - Thursday, December 11 & Friday, December 12

Harlingen - Monday, December 15 & Tuesday, December 16

Corpus Christi - Thursday, December 18 & Friday, December 19

Training maxes out at 20 participants so register today! http://bit.ly/1sf7VHp

 Housing First


          It is becoming increasingly obvious that the “Housing First” model is one of the most effective ways to end chronic homelessness today.   Countries such as Canada and Australia have already embraced this schema, and they are witnessing incredible results.  Rather than letting the most costly and vulnerable populations die on the streets, “Housing First’s” ideology dictates that those experiencing chronic homelessness should be permanently housed as swiftly as possible.  Canada’s recent “At Home/Chez Soi” study clearly demonstrates the benefits of reliance upon permanent supportive housing.  In the study, program developers placed half of the participants experiencing homelessness into transitional housing programs while the other half was placed in permanent supportive housing.  Compared to the individuals who participated in a traditional transitional housing program, the researchers discovered that those people who were placed in permanent supportive housing were more likely to have remained in housing after one year.  Further, those participants placed in permanent supportive housing reported that their emergency service consumption had decreased drastically. Lastly, and perhaps less tangibly, the “Housing First” participants reported a higher living satisfaction than their counterparts.  The conclusions of this four year study completely derailed the previous notion that emphasis on sobriety and transition was the most effective way to assist populations experiencing chronic homelessness. 

          A handful of American locations have witnessed similarly awe-inspiring results by implementing “Housing First” policies.  Utah is the most famous example.  In 2005, an Utahan report revealed that the average person experiencing chronic homelessness cost the state over $20,000 in emergency service usage per year, where as to simply house that same person would cost taxpayers about $8,000 per year.  Since turning to “Housing First,” chronic homelessness has dropped by 72% across the state.  The city of Nashville has received very similar results and subsequent national attention.  In Texas, Houston has quickly become the poster child of “Housing First,” making incredible strides toward transitioning the city’s most vulnerable citizens out of a state of cyclical homelessness in recent years.  Popular media coverage of these model cases has only continued to inspire other communities to focus on increasing access to permanent supportive housing.  All of this recent success has drummed up incredible excitement and momentum for the “Housing First” model and philosophy.

Providing the Support

However, in order to successfully expand the number of agencies implementing the policies of the “Housing First” model, homeless service organizations must understand the process holistically.  Most importantly, it is critical that all interested agencies appreciate the challenges of this practice.  While confident in the efficacy of this housing strategy, even the staunchest supporters of “Housing First” are very open about the difficulties in assisting populations that have previously lived in a state of chronic homelessness.  The majority of this very vulnerable population experiences complications with drug addiction and/or mental health challenges.  Similarly, the stresses of living on the street often make the transition to housing difficult for people who may have spent years without a roof over their head.  These challenges ensure that “Housing First” programs should not consist of “housing only.”  It is critical that supportive services be made readily available as soon as clients move into their new homes.  Each client necessitates the attention of an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, ready to assist the client with any of his or her needs through intensive outreach and case management. 

That being said, future housing cannot be made contingent upon participation in any addiction or psychiatric programs.  Outside of fulfilling the traditional requirements of their lease, “Housing First” clients should have as much personal freedom in their decision making as any other renters.  In order to execute a high-fidelity “Housing First” program, housing agencies need to create a philosophical divide between the housing and the social services.  Dr. Sam Tsemberis, an early proponent of “Housing First” and the executive director of the non-profit “Pathways to Housing,” is adamant that respecting the consumer-driven nature of this program is a necessity for long-term success.  Thus, for the clients uninterested in total sobriety, their choice must be fully respected.  Rather than enforcing draconian rules from the top, the best ACT teams work with their clients to develop harm reductive practices in order to increase the chances of continual housing.  Amazingly, even without the reliance on oppressive restrictions, most “Housing First” participants report a reduction of complications due to drug abuse and mental health challenges.  Past studies have shown that housing stability is one of the most powerful catalysts for the populations who formerly experienced homelessness to address their physical ailments and addictions.

Further, having these support systems in place is not only important for assisting clients.  Ready access to services also increases the chance of convincing public housing authorities and/or private landlords to provide space for individuals who have spent extended periods of time homeless.  According to Jessica Preheim, a program manager with the Houston Housing Authority, landlords are often afraid that if a client has difficulties adjusting to permanent housing after transitioning from a state of homelessness the complex will be left without help.  Landlords are often hesitant to offer affordable spaces to those people who have previously experienced chronic homelessness because they fear the possibilities of setbacks and personal liability.  By preparing an ACT team before meeting with a landlord, an agency demonstrates how serious they are in providing the services necessary to keep their client in sustainable housing.  Moreover, the agency must explain that if their client is evicted, agency representatives will help remove their client and will assist them in finding housing elsewhere.  In many ways, ensuring that a client is supported by the program does not only increase the person’s chances of remaining safely in housing, it also increases the likelihood that a client can be placed in a rental property at all.


          Too often, attention to the “Housing First” model has focused on the positive outcomes.  Without a doubt, the successes of this program are quite astounding.  When working at the highest fidelity, "Housing First" organizations routinely report that around 85% of clients remain in housing after one year of program participation.  However, while focusing on permanent supportive housing rather than transitional and/or emergency housing has produced wondrous results, assisting people who have experienced chronic homelessness is never an easy task.  Agencies must remember that actually moving their clients into housing is the easiest half of the program.  The real, often frustrating work follows the housing placement, when the safety net of supportive services is set in place.  Even after an ACT team is organized to assist a new client, services cannot be made mandatory requirement.  Moreover, for some of the most challenging individuals, the first placement may not prove successful, and the housing organization will need to find a new location for their client.  Still, if executed correctly, by allowing housed clients direct control over the direction of their services, these formerly marginalized people are delivered the tools for their own empowerment and self-improvement.  “Housing first” presents a cost-effective model to end chronic homelessness that allows for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations to actively govern the shaping of their own lives.


In addition to a great case management track at the Texas Conference on Ending Homelessness, t3 is offering a great fall webinar based line-up:

Trauma-Informed Care: Applying Theory to Practice discusses what is unique about a trauma-informed approach. Participants will have the opportunity to apply an understanding of trauma to their work as individuals, teams, and organizations. (Thursdays from September 11, 2014 through October 9, 2014 from 12:00 - 1:30 pm Eastern)

Critical Time Intervention (CTI) gives your agency the tools it needs to implement CTI. We bring together national CTI experts, a team-based learning approach, and engaging multimedia technology. The course covers CTI principles, evidence for CTI, phases of CTI, and skills for implementation. (Wednesdays from October 1, 2014 through October 29, 2014 from 1:00 - 2:00 pm Eastern)

Introduction to Motivational Interviewing (MI) covers the underlying mindset, core skills, and methods of MI. The course will be led by members of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT). (Thursdays from October 16, 2014 through November 13, 2014 from 12:00 - 1:00 pm Eastern)

Housing First Essentials will ground participants in the core principles of Housing First and discuss how to operationalize them, using case examples that are based on years of field work and research. This course will be led by Dr. Sam Tsemberis. (Wednesdays from January 28, 2015 through February 25, 2015 from 1:30 - 2:45 pm Eastern)

Visit the Conference website to view the tentative schedule. More workshops are being added so check back!