By Laura Raymond, February 26, 2015
In diverse, working-class neighborhoods across Los Angeles, an
unprecedented $40 billion mass transit expansion is being met with mixed
emotions. On the one hand, low-income residents are by far public
transit's biggest users, and expanded transit routes promise greater
mobility and better access to job opportunities. But the very real
prospect of displacement and gentrification looms.
Studies from around
the country show that as public transit improves, housing costs in the
surrounding area rise, and low-income residents, often in communities of
color, are priced out.
Already, large new developments of market rate and luxury housing are
coming to areas in LA near new rail stations under the idea of "Transit
Oriented Development," or what is commonly referred to as TOD. TOD
seeks to build more housing near transit hubs and is a major strategy in
combating LA's infamous traffic issues and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, a new white paper just released by the Alliance for Community Transit -LA (ACT LA), warns that without significant, ahead of the curve, affordable
housing policies, low income residents who ride transit will be
replaced by higher-income, multiple car owning households who are less
frequent transit users. This would be devastating for LA's communities,
posing serious economic and health risks to people who must leave their
neighborhood support systems, as well as self-defeating to the entire
point of expanding the transit system and focusing on TOD: increasing
But if it adopts a forward-thinking strategy, Los Angeles can address
housing needs, link quality jobs to the transit build out, and protect
existing small businesses from rising rents and competition from chain
stores. These will be key factors in ensuring longtime residents are
able to afford to stay living near transit and are not pushed out to the
margins of the city without access to the transit system that their tax
Various community organizations have done extraordinary work in their
neighborhoods to address the prospect of rising land values and
gentrification around new transit stations. One example is the youth
organizing done by the Southeast Asian Community Alliance in Chinatown,
where high school students worked with policy and urban planning experts
to come up with innovative new development standards. The resulting
plan prioritizes low income housing for new development in a huge area
that borders Chinatown's Metro station. The students, over a three-year
campaign, were able to build enough momentum for a victory at City Hall
and their plan - called the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP) -
was recently touted by the Los Angeles Times
as "a model for LA planning." Other community organizing around TOD
projects, for example in Little Tokyo or in South LA near the Blue and
Expo Lines, have resulted in strong community benefit agreements. But
given the intensive resources that go into working on the
project-by-project level and the sheer scale of the current transit
expansion, it is clear that a citywide approach is necessary.
This is especially true when some of the current land use policies
moving forward at the city level are taking LA in the wrong direction.
The Master Planned Development (MPD) ordinance, for example, which would
fast track massive developments while requiring very little in the way
of housing and employment policies and other community benefits that
serve existing communities, was recently passed by the City Planning
Commission and is moving toward the City Council for adoption.
Given the scale of the climate change crisis and the urgent need for
cities to move away from car dependency, LA's leadership in ensuring
core transit riders are able to live near transit will have implications
for cities across the country that are facing similar issues.
One thing is absolutely clear: LA is at a major crossroads. City
of all income levels must be involved in making decisions
about what the city will look like in ten years. Only then will LA be
able to establish the transit system it needs - a system that is
accessible to its thriving communities of transit riders.
Read the white paper here.