Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment

Los Angeles’s Transit-Oriented Communities Program: Challenges and Opportunities

Julia E. Stein

Pritzker Brief No. 13 | November 2019

CEN_EMM_PUB_Los Angeles Transit-Oriented Communities Program

In recent years, municipalities throughout California have struggled to meet housing needs, and construction of new housing units in the state has not kept apace of demand, resulting in increased housing costs that rank among the highest in the nation. At the same time, California faces pressure to achieve ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals in the relatively near term. Meeting those goals will require significant decreases in transportation sector emissions, which represent about 40 percent of the state’s GHG emissions. Particularly impacted by both the affordability and climate change crises are low-income Californians, whose communities suffer disproportionate impacts from lack of housing availability and vulnerability to climate change—and who also are California’s most reliable transit riders.

Lawmakers seeking to tackle both housing and greenhouse gas reduction goals have turned to transit-oriented development programs—zoning programs that promote increased housing density close to mass transit options like bus and rail—as one way to address both issues. This paper focuses on one such transit-oriented development program, the City of Los Angeles’ Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentive Program (TOC Program). The TOC Program offers density and other development incentives to projects within a half-mile radius of major transit stops, in exchange for developer commitments to provide a set percent¬age of deed-restricted affordable housing units within those projects.

The TOC Program has been a major driver of affordable housing production in the City of Los Angeles since its adoption in late 2017, but certain structural and legal constraints may be impeding its full capacity to augment affordable housing supply. This Pritzker Brief explores those potential constraints and offers recommendations to increase the program’s efficacy. It also explores how the program can provide data and lessons learned to lawmakers considering similar inclusionary transit-oriented development programs within their jurisdictions, or even at the state level.

To that end, this paper’s recommendations include:

  • Alterations to the TOC Program itself to address existing structural and legal hurdles to its full implementation, including through better interagency coordination, adoption of a pilot program to test limited streamlining efforts, and expansions of its applicability;
  • Better data collection and analysis to assess the program’s performance to date, including data regarding discretionary and non-discretionary program applications, legal challenges to applicant projects, neighborhood patterns and demographics in program incentive areas, and trends in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and transit ridership among applicant project occupants; and
  • Lawmaker attention to lessons learned from TOC Program implementation, including stake-holder experiences, the relationship of the discretionary approval process to the program’s efficacy, financial constraints impacting developer utilization of the program, and a critical review of affordability designations and requirements associated with the program.