Creating economic opportunity with increased access to transit
By John O’Callaghan, President & CEO of ANDP
The region needs to get behind MARTA’s proposed expansion of its rail and bus service to help improve our neighborhood location efficiency, meet the growing demand for transportation alternatives and prepare for our future. The 400 extension, Clifton Corridor and I-20 East expansions would increase transit access to nearly 600,000 jobs. By giving transit riders increased options, we anticipate economic opportunities will follow, such as increased access to educational institutions, job opportunities, and small business development.
Metro Atlanta’s population is projected to grow from 5.5 million to 8 million by 2040. It is essential that we prepare for this growth in a way that provides economic opportunities for all. Expanding job opportunities across the region’s 23 employment centers creates a need to connect workers efficiently to these new jobs.
As we reported in our Making the Case report in 2007, the combined expense of housing and transportation makes our region unaffordable to many low- and moderate-income (LMI) households. Ten years later, the problem still exists. Currently, on average, metro Atlanta residents spend nearly 54 percent of their household income on housing and transportation, compared to 41 percent in ‘location efficient’ environments.
Our region has considerable work ahead to become location efficient. The Center for Neighborhood Technology reports that only 1 percent of our region’s neighborhoods are location efficient. This could explain why only 4 percent of our workforce utilizes transit. Our region simply doesn’t have enough transit service.
And given that Atlantans spend $25 billion annually in vehicle-ownership, shifting to a more transit oriented, location efficient community would reduce road congestion, increase workplace efficiency, reduce our carbon footprint and ultimately increase economic opportunity.
Expanded transportation options for LMI families would also strengthen and lift home values in neighborhoods with significant levels of negative equity. For many families, MARTA is an important lifeline to achieving financial stability.
Two weeks ago, NeighborWorks America’s Training Institute brought nearly 2,000 housing and community development professionals to Atlanta to discuss the need for collaboration to increase economic opportunity for our most vulnerable populations. Attendees saw firsthand the collaborative work underway to stabilize neighborhoods in the city’s core and in suburban communities. However, the central theme of ‘creating opportunity’ was a reminder that while we focus on the current state of our neighborhoods, we must have an eye toward the future and promote infrastructure that creates equitable economic opportunity.