eTOD Briefs

Supportive housing and eTOD near the Wilson Red Line

Providing affordable, supportive housing near transit reduces costs and bridges the gap between jobs, services, and opportunities.

Housing and transportation costs are the two most significant expenses in an average household budget. The traditional measure of affordability recommends that housing cost no more than 30% of household income. Under this view, a little over half (55%) of US neighborhoods are considered “affordable”. However, that benchmark fails to take into account transportation costs, which are typically a household’s second-largest expenditure. In Cook County alone, the cost burden of housing and transportation costs consumes 60% of income.

Transportation costs are largely a function of the characteristics of the neighborhood in which a household chooses to live. Those who need supportive services are often more reliant on transit than others. Without transit, they become closed off to a multitude of opportunities and services that they need which can hinder their quality of life.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) makes housing more affordable because it reduces transportation costs, since there is less of a need to own a car. Additionally, it provides more access to jobs and amenities. In this way, TOD becomes a tool for accessible mobility. Providing affordable, supportive housing near transit reduces costs and helps overcome barriers to access, by working as a connector to jobs, services, and opportunities that would otherwise be highly segregated. If not implemented with an equitable lens, however, TOD can also lead to displacement when community members are excluded from the development process.

Large luxury apartment projects are attracted to transit availability, and when these are built it can result in an increase of property taxes or rent. Unfortunately, residents of the community aren’t always able to afford the spike in their housing costs and are forced out. At the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), we believe that through good policy, incentives, and most importantly, community involvement, there can be effective equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD). However, this is only feasible if planning and development is done with communities rather than for communities.

Over the past few years CNT has consulted with various community development corporations (CDCs) in order to build the eTOD Social Impact Calculator and conducted workshops to help them build capacity to meet their objectives. In a webcasted community workshop on March 8th, 2019, Drew Williams-Clark and Peter Haas from CNT, and special guest Rob Breymaier with Heartland Alliance, discussed the intersection of affordable housing and social service delivery.

Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood was identified in a December 2018 study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University as an emerging displacement pressure area. Specifically, its large transit-accessible sections, including the Wilson Red Line CTA stop, were noted to contain high-cost areas with vulnerable populations that were previously price-stable. These communities have long been higher-cost but have only in recent years experienced an increase in prices above the City average— increases which may exacerbate affordability challenges and displacement pressure for the vulnerable populations living in these communities.

Residents of the Leland have access to the recently remodeled Wilson Red Line station.

photo source:

Organizations like Heartland Alliance seek to tackle these challenges faced by residents. A division of Heartland Alliance, Heartland Housing, builds affordable housing as well as housing that meets community needs by providing social services, including healthcare. This model is known as supportive housing. One of Heartland’s supportive housing sites is The Leland in Uptown. The Leland, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been transformed into studio apartments that provide a home to 137 previously homeless residents. Each unit includes a kitchen and private bath. Amenities in the building include onsite laundry, computer lab, 24-hour security, and a private garden. Residents have access to nearby transit options, including local and express busses as well as the Red Line elevated train. Shopping, Truman College, community organizations, and religious institutions are only a short walk away for Leland residents. Heartland also provides on-site health services.

The Leland is a prime example of what supportive housing can do and provide for its residents. Supportive housing helps improve mental and physical health, can help reduce active substance abuse, and increases access to employment and/or schools by providing case management and other social supports on site or nearby. Residents are able to live more stable lives because they have access to the resources that they need. Combining affordable housing with these essential services, residents can access solutions to some of the most difficult circumstances they face, improving quality of life through independence and self-sufficiency. Supportive housing also helps create strong and healthy communities by rehabilitating old properties or building new ones.

Affordable housing developers have the opportunity, depending on the combination of development and operating subsidies used, to work with community organizations to build the business case for on-site commercial space. For example, the Leland offers retail space currently occupied by a community organization and a museum on the ground floor of the building.

As governments, decision makers, and communities plan for TOD, supportive housing must be part of the conversation. CNT’s eTOD Social Impact Calculator can help CDCs identify spaces for supportive housing that not only provide access to transit, but to other necessary amenities, such as grocery stores, healthcare, pharmacies, schools, and jobs.

« back to briefs