Tiny home villages, affordable housing and transit oriented development expanding

A tiny home village opened in the Cole neighborhood in late 2020

The researchers’ latest assessment compared village residents to a control group of people experiencing homelessness over a year that ended in October and included the pandemic. The researchers found that villagers were four times more likely to be working or in school and reported lower levels of anxiety, depression and hopelessness than people in the control group. But the researchers did not find improvements in other areas, such as average hourly pay, for village residents.

The Women’s Village at Clara Brown Commons is the second community of tiny homes built and managed by the Colorado Village Collaborative.

The new Women's Village of tiny homes at Clara Brown Commons. Dec. 2, 2020.
The new Women’s Village of tiny homes at Clara Brown Commons. Dec. 2, 2020. Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Donna Bryson, Denverite, Dec. 03, 2020

Updates with construction of permanent housing at the site expected to start in early 2022.

The first two residents — one who slept the night before in a stairwell, the other in an abandoned warehouse — are living in Denver’s newest temporary tiny home village.

Cole Chandler, executive director of Colorado Village Collaborative, said the two moved Wednesday into the Women’s Village at Clara Brown Commons in the Cole neighborhood.

Clara Brown Commons, on a lot bound by York and Gaylord streets and 37th and 38th avenues, will eventually be the site of 61 income-restricted apartments and 17 affordable for-sale town homes in a project led by Mile High Ministries. Mile High Ministries, which for decades has provided transitional housing and other community services in Denver, is working with affordable housing developer Habitat for Humanity on the Clara Brown project.

Colorado Village Collaborative’s 14 tiny homes for women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness are expected to occupy part of the block during much of the construction of the affordable housing. Jeff Johnsen, executive director of Mile High Ministries, said he anticipated breaking ground on a year-long construction project in early 2022. Chandler and Johnsen envision village residents one day moving into permanent housing at Clara Brown Commons.

Tiny home villages have been built elsewhere in the country. The model was first championed in Denver by people experiencing homeless and activists. The Women’s Village is the second community of tiny homes built and managed by the Colorado Village Collaborative, a nonprofit that also will be managing one of Denver’s first sanctioned campsites. Tiny home villages and sanctioned camp sites, the latter also known as safe outdoor spaces, are alternatives to shelters and bridges to permanent housing that aim to accommodate people experiencing homelessness who have been poorly served by traditional shelters. Women and transgender individuals and couples or people with pets often can’t get a bed in the traditional shelter system. Others avoid shelters because they see them as chaotic, dangerous or failing to provide privacy.

The congregation at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church had offered to host a tiny village for women in its parking lot at 2015 Glenarm Place in the Clements Historic District. But the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission blocked that project in 2018 on the grounds that it had no historical precedent.

Colorado Village Collaborative piloted Denver’s first tiny home village starting in 2017 on private land near the 38th & Blake RTD commuter rail station. That village, known as Beloved Community Village, moved last year to 4400 N. Pearl Street in Globeville. A below-market-rate apartment building now sits at the 38th & Blake site that the village once occupied. One of the residents of the apartment complex once lived in the Beloved Community Village.

In all, 11 people have moved from Beloved Community Village into permanent housing, according to the Colorado Village Collaborative.

The University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research has been monitoring the Beloved Community Village since 2017. The researchers’ latest assessment compared village residents to a control group of people experiencing homelessness over a year that ended in October and included the pandemic. The researchers found that villagers were four times more likely to be working or in school and reported lower levels of anxiety, depression and hopelessness than people in the control group. But the researchers did not find improvements in other areas, such as average hourly pay, for village residents.

Chandler said Thursday that a third village was planned for next year, and more in subsequent years.


Dec 3 2020, Transit Center This piece was written by Natalee Rivera, TransitCenter’s Graduate Program Fellow. 

The housing affordability crisis in the U.S. has displaced transit riders to areas with worse transit service and higher transportation costs. Recognizing that transit agencies can help reverse this trend, Sound Transit in Seattle and LA Metro in Los Angeles began incorporating anti-displacement and affordable housing policies into their large capital projects in 2016. Despite the financial uncertainties and upheaval wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, both agencies continue to move ahead with these commitments, and are on track to make thousands of homes priced below the market rate available over the next several years.  

The need for affordable housing is especially acute in both Seattle and Los Angeles. Even before the pandemic began, California already faced a shortage of more than a million homes for low-income families and had the nation’s third-highest rate of cost-burdened renter households, where at least 30% of income goes to housing costs. Being priced out is a top concern for LA residents, says Olivia Segura, who oversees transit-oriented development at LA Metro. 

In Seattle, over two-thirds of low-income households were cost-burdened in 2018, and the median cost of rent and basic utilities was roughly 35% higher than in 2011-2015. Now the city is bracing for a “looming tsunami of evictions” once pandemic-related eviction moratoriums are lifted. Both the city and state legislatures are taking steps to tackle the housing shortage, and “the discussion of displacement is more important than ever,” notes Edward Butterfield, Senior TOD Project Manager at Sound Transit.

Both Sound Transit and LA Metro are able to keep housing development moving because it makes financial sense for them to do so – their affordable housing projects have continued to generate revenue throughout the pandemic. 

Sound Transit and LA Metro are dramatically expanding their rail networks, which entails purchasing large swaths of land. During and after construction of rail projects, they are able to ground lease excess parcels of this land to developers for the express purpose of constructing affordable housing. Housing bonds issued by state and local governments — and sometimes the federal government — provide the upfront financing for below-market-rate housing development. Bonds issued before the onset of the pandemic will continue to sustain new affordable housing developments on transit agency-owned land for the next few years. 

After Seattle voters approved a $53.8 billion plan in 2016 to expand the region’s public transit system, Sound Transit adopted what’s known as the “80-80-80” policy to minimize displacement of people and businesses from properties affected by the expansion. This policy requires 80% of the agency’s surplus land be reserved for affordable housing developers, who must reserve 80% of units for people earning 80% or less than the area median income.

The agency is in the midst of constructing 40 miles of light rail track and 28 stations, and is currently implementing 12 TOD projects on surplus property. Under the 80-80-80 rule, 337 affordable housing units have already been built, and 963 are in the planning phase. The agency’s TOD team is catching up on a backlog of properties in the pipeline to ensure the 80-80-80 policy is implemented effectively and properly. Administering this inventory of planned developments, as well as affordable housing projects currently under construction, has not been significantly interrupted by the pandemic.

Sound Transit recently closed on its largest affordable housing project to date, enabling construction to begin on a high-rise with 360 below-market units and more than 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail space near the Capitol Hill rail station, local bus lines, and the First Hill streetcar. And while progress on two agency-owned properties by the Angle Lake rail station, which opened in 2016, was initially delayed in March due to COVID-19, the Sound Transit Board officially approved offerings for both of these sites for affordable housing and mixed-use development. RFPs will be released in coming months to finalize development plans for the two sites. 

As Sound Transit continues to manage and implement its 80-80-80 policy to help spur affordable housing development, the housing crisis and the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on Black and brown communities loom large for the agency. The imperatives to mitigate disparate impacts on communities of color and alleviate housing pressures are “converging together to elevate affordable housing as a priority for the region,” says Butterfield. 

The public transit system in Los Angeles is also expanding at a rapid pace with revenue raised from Measure M, which voters approved in 2016. LA Metro is working with developers to build projects on agency-owned properties through its Joint Development Program, in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles’s Transit Oriented Communities program. LA Metro’s affordable housing policy stipulates that 35% of housing units built on these Metro-owned properties must be affordable to households with no more than 60% of area median income. 

Housing construction is expensive, and developers aren’t always inclined to take on affordable housing because profit opportunities are limited. But one way LA Metro is able to attract developers is by providing below-market rates to lease and build on their land. 

So far, LA Metro has facilitated 2,000 units of housing, 31% of which are below-market. Its pipeline of joint development projects includes 396 additional affordable housing units. This work has continued through the pandemic.

In August, the LA Metro Board authorized a purchase and sale agreement for the property adjacent to the Vermont/Santa Monica Red Line rail station with an affiliate of the Little Tokyo Community Development Corporation. The developer will lease the 33,682 square-foot property to construct and operate a mixed-use, affordable housing project, with 185 homes for low-income households — roughly half of which will be reserved for individuals and families with very low incomes (no more than 30 percent of area median income). 

According to Segura, the COVID crisis and the growing awareness of structural inequities facing people of color have generated a greater urgency for public agencies, including LA Metro, to enhance housing affordability and prevent displacement through public projects and initiatives. She says Metro is beginning to receive requests from the City of Los Angeles and the LA Metro Board of Directors to increase its commitment to affordable housing by, for instance, discounting agency-owned land at even greater rates, even as the city and agency grapple with broader financial challenges. 

The agency “still has to cut budgets and be more conscious of resources,” Segura says, “but it hasn’t stopped any [affordable housing] projects per se…The political support is there.”


‘Mobility Hubs’ Become Community Anchors in Minneapolis


A Mobility Hub ambassador at work (Photo courtesy City of Minneapolis)

In an open field near the major intersection of Penn and Lowry Avenues in North Minneapolis, across the street from a liquor store and near several churches and a school, resides one of the city’s pilot “mobility hubs,” one of 25 spaces designed to increase access to low- or no-carbon transportation options.


These hubs are centralized locations where various forms of transportation come together on one corner, from bike lanes and bus stops to scooter, bike, and car shares. According to a report on the project, they’re designed to make people’s trips as “safe, convenient, and reliable as possible” by eliminating a few of the variables that can keep people from choosing public transportation over personal vehicles.

The idea is that by concentrating various modes of transportation in strategically placed, centralized locations, people will be more likely to use public or shared transportation. City officials hope that the project ultimately reduces the reliance on personal vehicles for those that have them and increases mobility for those that don’t.

While the project is currently under evaluation, early data suggests that roughly 800,000 trips have been made at hubs so far and 64 percent of users surveyed said that the improvements that the hubs bring makes them more likely to use the transportation options there.

The project is at the confluence of several of the city’s action plans and initiatives, from the 2017 Twin Cities Mobility Action Plan to Minneapolis’ involvement in the American Cities Climate Challenge and Transportation for America’s Smart City Collaborative.

Through the Smart City Collaborative, Jasna Hadzic-Stanek, transportation planner with the City of Minneapolis, and others leading the pilot received pro-bono consulting that helped identify the best locations for the hubs. “They looked at equity-based data, like 50 different data sets, to really help narrow down locations in areas of concentrated poverty,” Hadzic-Stanek says. “The goal was that these would be in areas that need these options while also meeting goals for safety and climate and so on.” Ultimately, the city created 12 hubs in 2019, and added 13 in 2020 for a total of 25.

The second phase of the pilot is slated to run through the end of January 2021.

(Photo courtesy City of Minneapolis)

In addition to the transportation elements, community ambassadors like Mark Woods not only help to activate the spaces, but increase safety as well.

“Our mobility hub has been a welcoming space,” says Woods, the project’s Northside Mobility Hub Ambassador. Working with a variety of local groups and schools, Woods has taken the opportunity to get North Minneapolis youth involved, going above and beyond his role of being a welcoming presence to organize and paint a mural after George Floyd’s death, for example. His efforts have also included handing out masks and conducting candy drives for kids who had to forgo trick-or-treating this year. “It’s become bigger than just cleaning up trash around the area,” Woods says.

After early users reported they felt unsafe using the hubs alone at certain times of day, community members like Woods were carefully selected to be staffed as on-site ambassadors through partnerships with community organizations.

“It’s important to have a recognizable face,” says Hadzic-Stanek of the decision to engage, for example, Somali-speaking ambassadors in the city’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, which has been called the “Somali capital of America.” “They do light maintenance and are trained to provide education around mobility hubs as well as information on low-income programs to use [bikeshare program] Nice Rides and scooters,” she says.

The project has required partnering with both other public and private entities, considering that the various right of ways could be owned by the city, the county, or the state while working with Lyft and Nice Ride has meant partnering with private companies. Looking to the future, the project is planning to collaborate with HourCar, a St. Paul-based non-profit carshare that is launching a one-way electric project next year. “We’re working to coordinate [that initiative] around the mobility hubs,” Hadzic-Stanek says.

As the pilot nears the end of its testing phase, Hadzic-Stanek is looking to gather enough information to make a completing case for capital funding to transition the program away from the whims of grant funding. Her team also plans to develop an app where users can book and pay for the various forms of trip’s transportation in one place. “That’s the long-term goal. Hopefully we’ll get there one day,” she says.


Prospect, Transportation in Crisis

, Sound Transit is in an enviable position. Not only is the Seattle regional area system not experiencing the same degree of fiscal stress that most agencies are, it is actually in the midst of the country’s largest transit expansion projects, a $54 billion light-rail, commuter rail, express, and bus rapid transit extravaganza. In 2016, voters approved the expansion of the light-rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and other advancements through increases in property, sales, and motor vehicle excise taxes in the Puget Sound’s King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.ExpandND20GURLEY-TRANSITCrisis SeattleLINK.jpg


Despite the pandemic, Sound Transit is moving ahead with expanding its Link light rail system. Here, a train nears Seattle’s Mount Baker Station.

Overall, ridership dropped 87 percent during the pandemic. As in other systems, however, bus routes serving transit-dependent workers in communities of color did not drop off as sharply. CEO Peter Rogoff says his “biggest lift” is rescheduling capital expansion expenditures in response to an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion revenue shortfall. Most other transit district CEOs across the country have bigger lifts than his.

Back East, when the work-from-home option emptied out central business districts, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Agency, Ohio’s largest, cut service by about 15 percent. Gone were the downtown trolley and the park-and-ride options (which have been restored on a limited basis). Ridership dropped to as low as 30 to 40 percent of pre-pandemic levels, but it’s now up to about 65 percent on a good day.

Less brutalized by financial constraints than many of its peers (a local sales and use tax, fare revenue, federal contributions, and a modest state contribution fund the system), the GCRTA has used the pandemic lull to initiate a major service redesign. The agency conducted rider surveys, community meetings, and studies that devised two alternatives. One scenario would focus on providing service every 15 minutes every day including weekends, but only to areas with the greatest rider demand, such as suburban employment centers like Steelyard Commons and educational institutions like the Cuyahoga Community College, with the remainder only to certain transit-dependent areas.

The second alternative would allocate 50 percent of the budget to cover high-demand areas and 50 percent to low-demand areas, with every area getting less-frequent service. The benefits would accrue to people across the region who don’t have cars, can’t drive, or live in difficult-to-access areas that would see an existing route extended. “It becomes a conversation of frequency versus coverage,” says India Birdsong, the GCRTA general manager. “It’s no longer the case where your ridership is coming in at 8 a.m. in the morning, and everybody’s going back out at the end of the day,” she says. “Maybe we look at adjusting our bus network to be able to expand coverage, but at the same time, we’ve got to be frequent.”

Innovation is key, and frequency may be the barometer by which effective public transportation may be measured in the new normal. By reducing crowding, frequent transit would also alleviate some of the safety fears that will persist after mass distribution of a vaccine. Public transit will have to inspire confidence, and passengers are unlikely to tolerate the sardine-like conditions that they’d previously endured. Express buses, bus rapid transit, and the streetscapes that can accommodate these routes can alleviate crowding on buses, not to mention traffic congestion on heavily traveled lines.

The string of successful transit ballot initiatives on November 3 makes clear the strong confidence in the importance of public transportation.

Other concepts that have guided the provision of service—such as morning and evening rush hours—no longer fit how people work or travel, especially if a certain percentage of people never return to downtown office spaces, says Jim Aloisi, a former Massachusetts secretary of transportation who teaches transportation policy at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “The old idea of the rush hour approach to running transit is gone; it’s antiquated,” says Aloisi. “It was going away gradually before the pandemic because people weren’t all in the traditional 9-to-5 environment. But now it’s happening on an accelerated scale.”

RURAL RIDERSHIP DECLINES have not been as dramatic, in part because these routes serve some of the same transit-dependent, low-income people who, like those in cities, have no other options. In western Pennsylvania, ridership in the small towns of Warren, Crawford, and Butler decreased by 23 percent, 32 percent, and 28 percent, respectively. Granger, the Pennsylvania deputy secretary, says the state has seen smaller declines in rural areas partly because COVID-19 arrived later there and ridership numbers were not as high as in the larger transit agencies.

Bus and van systems fill a critical niche for small towns and tribal communities that are far from regional employment centers, health care, education hubs, and intercity transportation links like Greyhound and Amtrak. In addition to taking residents on errands and students to schools and colleges, they provide non-emergency medical transportation for dialysis and chemotherapy patients through contracts with local health care providers.

With 54 vehicles, Prairie Hills Transit, based in Spearfish in western South Dakota, is firmly embedded in the regional medical network, moving people to and from facilities run by Monument Health, the region’s largest health care provider, independent hospitals, and clinics. For Barb Cline, Prairie Hills Transit’s executive director, the pandemic has meant fewer non-emergency medical trips around the 16,500-square-mile service area that spans eight counties and 15 communities, including Rapid City.

COVID-19 arrived late to South Dakota, but the state has experienced one of the country’s fiercest outbreaks. Although schools remain open and people continue to shop and run errands, nursing homes are locking down and have scaled back residents’ trips to routine appointments. Prairie Hills Transit moved early to take up protective measures. They had ample supplies of PPE like masks and gloves. Cline had a team of two doctors and two nurses evaluate and advise them on their cleaning and disinfecting protocols. They required passengers to wear masks, installed plexiglass barriers for drivers, and used electrostatic sprays to clean and disinfect vehicles between trips, which is particularly important when transporting people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

While before the pandemic, the transit system ran 300 to 400 trips each day, from March to July, trips dropped to between 60 and 100 per day. In addition, the reduction in routine appointments for Medicaid recipients has cut into the payments the transit system receives for those trips. Despite those budget shocks, Cline has few worries for the next year or so. The system is primarily funded by state, federal, and local grants, fares, and donations. The agency also received $1.2 million in CARES Act funding. She is more concerned about COVID-19 and the health of her passengers and employees. “They weigh more heavily on me than the financial piece of it,” she says.ND20GURLEY-Transit Crisis-NY Subway Mask.jpg


A sign in an MTA subway car, September 2020

More than anything else, the string of successful transit ballot initiatives that passed in urban areas and small towns on November 3 makes clear the strong confidence in the importance of public transportation that exists in many localities. Missoula, Montana, voters gave the city’s Mountain Line bus service a $3 million boost through an increase in mill (property) levies. Riders there will gain Sunday service for the first time ever, more frequent buses, increased funding for zero-fare rides, and eventually an all-new electric fleet. The changes are set to debut in 2022.

Seattle voters approved a six-year renewal of their sales tax to fund King County Metro bus routes, maintenance, and capital improvements, and low-income fare programs for seniors, students, essential workers, and low-income riders. Austin green-lighted two proposals, a $7 billion Project Connect transit expansion plan for two light-rail lines, a commuter rail line, bus rapid transit, and a bicycle-pedestrian improvement plan. San Antonio passed a measure to fund improvements to its VIA Metropolitan Transit system beginning in 2026. APTA has reported that 32 out of 34 transportation ballot questions nationwide passed since January.

IN GENTRIFYING METRO areas like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., workers pushed out to suburban towns in their search for affordable housing are even more transit-dependent than they were before—unless they work from home. How workers across the nation will assess the pros and cons of working from home once the pandemic is over has become a crucial determinant in shaping the future of public transportation. A June Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research study found that 42 percent of employees work from home, and 26 percent are going to physical locations to work, while 33 percent are not working.

But, the Stanford study also concluded, only half of the people who work from home can do their tasks as productively as they could when they commuted to work. Some may not have adequate internet connectivity or IT support, or work in a bedroom or another less-than-ideal workspace, a situation the Stanford researchers labeled a “ticking inequality time bomb.” They concluded that working two days per week at home may emerge as the optimal compromise.

In metro Seattle, tech giants aren’t expecting all employees to permanently cocoon in home offices. Indeed, they’re making real estate purchases to house new groups of workers. In June, Amazon announced a new 111,000-square-foot office space for 600 web workers in Redmond, Washington, even after COVID-19 hit Washington state early and hard. Microsoft plans to expand its Redmond campus, and local businesses have expressed concerns about the company’s recent announcement that would allow employees either to work from home, return to offices, or even relocate.

“I don’t know that we as a nation are going to stay at home,” says Rogoff of Sound Transit, who served as federal transit administrator and undersecretary of transportation for policy during the Obama administration. “For all the talk of telecommuting, I’m seeing that Microsoft is not slowing their multibillion-dollar expansion of their campus out in Redmond. Facebook just in the last few months has contracted for enough space for 7,000 employees,” he told The American Prospect. “There’s going to be a desire to get employees back to a workplace, if not every day, with some frequency.”

Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in the return of physical workplaces comes courtesy of New York, the perennial subject of death-of-cities and demise-of-transit gloom. The New York Times reported that since the pandemic began, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have acquired more than three million square feet of office space in the city. If a worker actually wants to get somewhere in New York, buses and subway are the smartest options.

The fate of public transit also affects the fate of the planet. In the United States, transportation is the key producer of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and cars and other light vehicles are the primary sources of those emissions. If anything, the pandemic gave the Earth a short breather. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that CO2 emissions from the transportation sector plummeted 40 percent in the first half of 2020, and overall emissions declined 8.8 percent, more than during World War II, the Great Recession of 2008, or the oil crisis of 1979. As people adapt to a post-pandemic new normal, whether traffic congestion and climate change dangers exceed pre-pandemic parameters may hinge on whether public-transportation systems can switch gears and restore confidence that buses and trains are safe, clean, and more efficient than driving.

On the fiscal front, Republican members of Congress appear content to let transit and other COVID-ravaged sectors languish. The perennial inability of Congress to act indicates that states and local communities increasingly will have to find their own way to pay for transit, though they will never have the sums at their disposal that the federal government can muster.

More from Gabrielle Gurley

But as necessary as a new stimulus package is, it’s only a short-term fix. The prospects for longer-term federal funding are even bleaker. Public transportation can’t rely on the federal gas tax boost to fill the coffers of a Highway Trust Fund that is well on its way to insolvency. Besides, raising the gas tax would take political courage that few in Washington possess, even though it could provide a short-term bridge to the electrification revolution and new mechanisms such as congestion pricing.

If he can persuade Congress to join him, Joe Biden could be the first American president since Dwight Eisenhower established the interstate highway system to have the opportunity to reshape how Americans move. Biden has likely spent more time as a public-transportation commuter, relying on skilled Amtrak workers to get him from home to work and back again, than any of his presidential predecessors. Rogoff notes that during his tenure at the Transportation Department, Biden was engaged in making sure that Great Recession stimulus funds got to communities like Detroit struggling with transit problems.

“The guy used to burn me a new eardrum when he talked about Amtrak funding,” Rogoff says. “It’s not an amorphous thing for him, he’s really quite committed to it.” If Biden can translate his enthusiasm into federal dollars and concrete reforms, not only will public transportation survive the pandemic, but the millions of Americans who use it will thrive.

This article is part of our ongoing series on sustainable mobility, transportation, and climate.TRANSPORTATIONWASHINGTON STATEPENNSYLVANIACORONAVIRUSPOLITICSNOV/DEC 2020 ISSUECONGRESS https://prospect.org/coronavirus/public-transportation-in-crisis/