Thursday, January 23, 2014

Affordable Housing and Transit - Shouldn't They Work Together?

The City's Community Development Director recently announced city funding for the development of a large affordable housing project in Southwest Sioux Falls. The Community Development department is awarding a $350,000 loan to a local developer towards an $8 million dollar project to build 56 affordable housing units out by the Tea-Ellis Road in Southwest Sioux Falls. Tenants with incomes that range from at or below 30% to 60% of the median income of the Sioux Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area will qualify to live there. 

Granted a $350,000 city loan to a developer on a $8 million project seems like small potatoes but taxpayer money is taxpayer money and taxpayers want to make sure it is a fiscally prudent use of tax dollars, as the mayor is fond of saying. The question that comes to mind is how do these affordable housing projects serve the community and does this funding match the goals of the city in terms of serving the economically challenged population from a transportation perspective.

The writing is on the wall that there is a demographic shift going on in the city. When 49.1% of school age children in Sioux Falls qualify for reduced or subsidized meals in the school district it tells you something. The Banquet and Food Bank have increasing needs in their efforts to help the working poor feed their families.

When you look at the increasing ridership of transit users in this city over the past years, it is telling us something too. From 2000 to 2010 transit ridership increased from 603,279 to 937,258. There are two types of transit riders, the commuters and the transit dependent. The majority of transit users fall into the transit dependent category. (Source: Transit Development Plan 2011-2015)

The majority of funding for transit services comes from federal and state grants and the city's general fund. There is smaller funding gained from fares, Medicaid, and advertising but those are small compared to federal, state and city general funds. It is no secret that general fund money for increased transit costs or expanded fixed route services do not get the attention or funding as those big sexy projects like the Event Center or expanded pools and parks or the necessary road infrastructure needs.

The city says its nearly impossible to expand transit services to keep up with the growth rate of the city and federal funding just doesn't keep pace with increased costs associated with transit fixed route costs. The city is growing outward from the core and many of the outlying areas don't even have transit service. So, it's kind of a head scratcher to learn that city is awarding funds to private developers to build affordable housing in an outlying area that doesn't even have transit services and probably won't get transit services.

It's fine to help build affordable housing but when you build affordable housing in an outlying area that doesn't offer transportation services to major destinations, schools, hospitals, the downtown area, or portions of the industrial park area, it seems half the agenda is met. 


  1. Good post. I totally agree. Suburban-style developments simply aren't conducive to transit, since the separation of uses makes walking (as a utilitarian transportation method) completely implausible.

    The statement that "[t]he majority of transit users fall into the transit dependent category" is one that deserves more attention, in my opinion. Sioux Falls makes no effort to raise its transit system up from this safety-net type of system; choice riders (commuters) will never choose the system over driving in its current state. The solution is two-fold: re-distribution of transit resources into making central-city transit more desirable; and coordinating new, walkable, mixed-use and high-density developments along these transit corridors. A good example would be 15-minute service along Minnesota Ave, with the 33rd & Minnesota intersection targeted as a higher-density neighborhood center redevelopment area.

  2. and you would think the developer who is getting the loan, Planning Chair Dunlap would know better. What kind of confidence does that give us in him?