Transit Access Is An Equity Issue
After housing, transportation is the second highest cost for most people. The Center for Neighborhood Technology estimates that households in the Puget Sound Region spend about 19 percent of their income on transportation. Living in a central, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood like Capitol Hill can help households save a lot on transportation expenses by driving less or not even owning a car – one of the reasons that Capitol Hill Housing believes it is so important to provide affordable housing in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. However, for many low income people, the regular cost of using transit is still unaffordable.
In 2014, we surveyed over 300 Capitol Hill households about their transit expenses. We found that while 42 percent of households in market rate buildings had all or part of their transit passes paid for by their employer and school, only 16 percent of households in affordable housing received similar help paying for transit. We wanted to change this for our residents. An opportunity came when we learned about King County Metro’s new Multi-Family Passport program that allows property managers to offer the same subsidy and discounts as employers. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to contribute our share to the subsidy. Luckily, SDOT agreed to step in and cover those costs in 3 buildings as a pilot project.
How Affordable Housing Providers Can Tackle Climate Change
Promoting transit use has other benefits as well. If affordable transit passes reduce driving, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Driving just recently surpassed power plants as the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Transportation is an even bigger contributor to emissions in Seattle because we get most of our electricity from hydro power. If we want to tackle climate change, we need to reduce emissions from driving in ways that also have positive impacts for low income people.
Last but not least, transit pass can help reduce housing costs associated with parking. If transit passes reduce the need for our residents to own cars, we won’t need to build as many expensive parking places. The average parking garage space on Capitol Hill costs about $33,000 to build. If our residents no longer need parking in our existing buildings, through our district shared parking program, we can rent out those unused spaces to generate revenue that helps support building maintenance and operations.
How Does the Affordable Housing Transit Pass Program Work?
With funding from SDOT, Capitol Hill Housing was able to purchase transit passes for residents of three of our income restricted apartment buildings, totaling 122 units. Residents who wish to participate pay 50% of the monthly cost, which is $10, $16, or $17 depending on the building. This compares with $117 per month for a standard individual pass or $55 per month for a standard individual low income fare or LIFT pass. Payment for the card is processed along with rent. Passes completely cover unlimited trips on all local transit including Metro, Sounder Train and Light Rail.
- Over 50% of passes sold.
- 52% of participants previously had a card for which they paid 100% of the cost
- The small administrative burden is small (less than 4 staff hours per month)
- We have received anecdotal reports of over $100 in monthly savings by some participating households
Capitol Hill Housing will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program in early 2017.
Expanding the Program
Everyone in Seattle should have affordable access to transit. An expanded Affordable Housing Transit Pass program would leverage affordable housing providers to connect more low income people to low cost transit options. We hope that by continuing to work with King County Metro, the Seattle Department of Transportation, other affordable housing providers, our residents, and the community at large we can expand this program to eventually serve all affordable housing properties in the city.