Green Industry Articles

Real Estate Practitioners Working to Improve Community Transportation

President Obama's 2011 announcement about a strategy for new high-speed rail has been both lauded and criticized. One group, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a Chicagobased urban sustainability group, clapped its hands, noting that Obama's proposed transportation budget "combines common sense reforms with the transformative investments necessary to keep America globally competitive and economically secure."

But well before Obama's announcement, real estate practitioners had their eye on improving transportation in their communities.

Real estate agent Eric S. Freidman, for one, sees effective transit as an integral component in making St. Louis more economically competitive. It's one reason he was involved in getting the Missouri legislature to pass Rebuilding Communities Tax Credit Program and the Historic Tax Credit. The legislation played a key role in helping to bring 5,000 new residential units to St. Louis and to revive the city's downtown. The fresh crop of housing has drawn an influx of new residents, many of whom are Millennials and the creative class that local companies seek as employees.

For similar reasons, he's turned his attention to bettering the region's transit, and he participates in an array of advocacy groups. Friedman is president and founder of the Friedman Group, Ltd. REALTORS® & Friedman Development in St. Louis. He's also chairman of St. Louis Association of REALTORS®' Economic Development Taskforce, and a founder of Housing & Community Solutions, Inc.

Another practitioner concerned about transit is Joseph Scarpa, LEED AP, GREEN, EcoBroker®, e-PRO®, broker of Green Paradigm Realty in Pennsville, N.J. He had an aha moment when he chatted up someone in a coffee shop and learned that the man's commute, which could have been 30 minutes along a state highway, required him to spend several hours daily on a circuitous bus route.

As a result, Scarpa started researching the region's transit challenges and engaged with several groups concerned with such issues. That included the local Chamber of Commerce and the Pascale-Sykes Foundation, a social services agency focused on helping low-income families. He wanted to better understand transit challenges and seek out and advocate for solutions.

One short-term goal is finding ways to ease the arduous trek for commuters traveling between rural Southern New Jersey towns.

The long-term goals are more ambitious. For one, Scarpa envisions a scenario in which electric buses transport workers to green collar jobs. Such efforts are, however, in the embryonic stage.

Taking the idea to the next level entails tapping an array of stakeholders, including academia, corporations, and government for their research, know-how, funding, and legislative might.
 

Transit linked to housing affordability

Making transit decisions a part of a holistic smart growth plan is a wise move, according to research by CNT. "We look at transit as integral part of community development," comments Adam Mays, social ventures associate with CNT.

One focus of CNT is quantifying how much households spend on transportation. Its 2010 study, Housing + Transportation Affordability Index (http://htaindex.cnt.org/) examined 337 metro areas across the country to assess neighborhoods' affordability by considering transportation costs associated with those locations.

It turns out that once transportation costs are factored into housing costs, only two in five American communities actually are affordable for typical households.

The research sheds light on the pressing need for good transit.
 

Fuel local transit changes

Here are some strategies for fueling transit changes in your community.

1. Understand the effect that transit has on a healthy, sustainable real estate market, greater economic vitality, and an improved quality of life.

2. Seek out professionals from all walks of life, including those in government, academia, business, and social services to collaborate on developing transit solutions. Friedman's groups have included architectural and engineering firms, graphic design experts, retailers, union representatives, and real estate professionals. Scarpa has found that faithbased groups have a keen interest in improving transit too. In fact, one option in Scarpa's area may entail churches using their vans to ferry people to jobs and other critical appointments.

3. Find someone who, as Friedman describes it, is a non-ego-bound leader. The person needs to listen to all parties, bring people together, facilitate discussion, and be able to take comprehensive view of economics, housing, and transit. That means, for instance, he or she needs to understand the link between transit costs and the ultimate cost of homeownership, the role demographics plays in economic health, the importance of workforce housing (for firemen, nurses, and teachers), and ways transit and walkable communities attract and retain the creative workers corporations want.

4. Promote transit proximity and walkabiltiy in listings, suggests Friedman. It raises awareness of transit issues and also helps prospects make sounder housing decisions.

Another option is using CNT"s site, www.abogo.cnt.org, to examine transit costs associated with a given address and gain a full picture of homeownership costs.

5. Look at those having an impact on your local economy and transit. Encourage your real estate board to connect with them and focus on transportation issues. That can entail participating in local meetings, hosting speakers, and sponsoring webinars addressing transit topics. "Have conversations about how to grow the economy of the community and make it more sustainable," suggests Friedman.

6. Talk to elected officials about supporting transit. "People have to be vocal and involved and shift from a reactive to proactive stance," says Mays.

Resources:
American Public Transportation Association --The group aims to strengthen and improve public transportation.
Center for Neighborhood Technology -- CNT's Abogo, allows home seekers to uncover the cost of transportation at addresses around the country.
National Association of REALTORS® -- The Smart Growth program offers an array of resources aimed at helping you build better communities.
Reconnecting America -- A national nonprofit effort funded by Congress to promote best practices in transit-oriented development.
Rail~Volution --A conference focused on the role that land use and transit play in creating better, more livable communities.
Urban Land Institute --Provides research and education on land use and real estate development.

Source: Green REsource Council Newsletter, February 2011