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Transit-Oriented Housing Helps Older Adults Live Independent Lives

No car? No problem. AARP found more than 100 ways government support for public transit is energizing communities and enhancing lives

A Yale Station resident sitting with her cat.

Photo courtesy Silva Markham Partners

Yale Station Apartments resident Karlyn Huffman and her cat.

Seventy-eight year-old Karlyn Huffman (pictured, above) describes herself as outgoing and independent. "My friends and neighbors will tell you I am a bulldog when it comes to getting out of the house every day," she says. "I go everywhere."

Huffman has health issues, and she gave up her car seven years ago, but nothing holds her back. Her independence is aided by her choice to live in Yale Station Apartments, an affordable senior housing development in Denver, Colorado, that's located in the transit- and amenity-rich neighborhood of University Hills. Her building (pictured below) is adjacent to a light rail station. Huffman uses the train and a bus to get to her job as a cook in the home of a prominent Denver family, as well as to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center and to the art museum. She even makes the necessary transfers so she can shop in Boulder.

Denver is just one of many cities in the United States that has embraced transit-oriented development. A new AARP Public Policy Institute report —  Communities Are Embracing Development Near Transit: A Snapshot of Transit-Oriented Development Support Across the United States —  documents more than 100 examples of state, regional and local support for development that takes advantage of the public's investment in high frequency rail and bus service. Huffman's experience and a slideshow accompanying this article offer a glimpse into how such projects enhance lives.

An exterior view of the Yale Station Apartments in Denver

Photo courtesy Koelbel and Company

Yale Station Apartments is located adjacent to the Yale Station stop on the RTD light-rail.

The Benefits of Transit-Rich Neighborhoods

Many of Yale Station Apartment's residents are frequent transit users, taking at least one trip every two weeks, as defined by the property manager. By that measure, Huffman could be considered a super-user of transit, taking at least three bus trips every weekday.

While she makes trips by public transportation, she does enjoy rides with friends and neighbors. She and her girlfriends enjoy dinner at Chili’s and then catch a movie, with several theatres nearby to choose from. Their neighborhood also offers a free fitness center next door, a YMCA with a pool, and several grocery stores. Huffman's location also has allowed her to stay in her longtime community. Yale Station Apartments are just two miles from her previous home of 20 years.

"Downsizing after living in a big home was a culture shock," Huffman acknowledges, "but you have to do what you have to do." Nevertheless, she describes her home of five years in highly positive terms. "I most love [Yale Station Apartments] for the transportation,” she says.

A map of Denver's RDT train line.


The route map of the RTD (Regional Transportation Denver).

A Policy Key to Affordability

Transit-oriented development is often a victim of its own success. Transit-rich neighborhoods become vibrant and sought after by buyers and renters of all ages, pushing up housing costs. The challenge now is to ensure that housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households, including older adults, be part of these new neighborhoods.

Huffman would not have been able to afford this sought-after neighborhood were it not for the reduced rent. Yale Station Apartments offer 50 units to residents age 55 and older who have incomes of between 30 and 60 percent of the Denver region’s median income.

To make the numbers work, the developer applied to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).

"Yale Station could not have come together without the support of the LIHTC," says Carl Koebel, vice president of the development firm Koelbel and Company. "It's a powerful tool to create affordable housing." According to Koelbel, the wait list at Yale and the University Station apartments nearby includes more than 30 names. Vacancy rates are less than 1 percent.

A new apartment building along the Atlanta BeltLine

Photo by Jana Lynott

The Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile walk-bike path circling the city's downtown, has spurred the construction of all sorts of housing, offices, shops and more.

An East Coast Example

Denver is hardly the only city where developers are building affordable housing that is conveniently located near transportation amenities.

Atlanta is facilitating this type of development through strong policy and funding commitments. In 2005, the Atlanta City Council legislatively mandated a goal of building 5,600 units of affordable housing over 25 years within close proximity to its Atlanta BeltLine — a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, a modern streetcar line and parks.

Reynoldstown Senior Residences is a new independent-living, affordable senior housing facility. The BeltLine runs right through the Reynoldstown neighborhood and is near the senior housing development, which was funded in part by a $1.5 million BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund grant, and is a result of a partnership between Mercy Housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

(Watch an Atlanta Beltline video to see Reynoldstown residents talking about where they live.)

Author Jana Lynott, AICP, is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she manages the AARP transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

Article published September 2017

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