Rising gas prices, escalating traffic congestion, and changing lifestyle preferences have conspired to make mixed-use, transit-oriented developments (TODs) the hot topic in conference rooms and planning offices throughout the U.S. But on the flipside, growing demand has made housing in TODs unaffordable for many transit-dependent, low-income families. Aiming to change this, New Jersey recently passed a law that requires provision of affordable housing units in TOD communities. The law builds on an existing state program — New Jersey's Transit Village Initiative — that provides incentives to municipalities that promote TODs.
The Transit Village Initiative
Established in 1999 by NJ TRANSIT and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the Transit Village Initiative promotes the creation of compact and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use developments oriented around public transit stations. Under the program, local governments seeking to develop areas within one-half mile of transit stations can apply for designation as a Transit Village. To qualify, a municipal government must adopt a TOD plan or zoning ordinance within a one-half mile radius of a public transit facility, identify specific TOD sites and projects, and establish a village management organization. Additionally, the TOD zoning ordinance must include transit-supportive architectural, site-design, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and reduced parking regulations. Applications are scored based on certain criteria by the Transit Village Task Force — comprised of representatives from state agencies, including NJDOT, NJ TRANSIT, Department of Community Affairs, and the Department of Environmental Protection. Municipalities that receive the transit village designation are eligible for incentives that include NJDOT grants for sidewalk and roadway improvements, consulting from NJ TRANSIT for future village planning, and the State of New Jersey's commitment to the municipality's vision for redevelopment.
New Transit Villages Include Affordable Housing
In 2008, the New Jersey state legislature adopted P.L. 2008, c. 46. The law requires 20 percent of new housing units constructed within Transit Villages to be available for low- and moderate-income families. This requirement is waived for municipalities that have met the state's fair share requirements for affordable housing.
The existing Transit Village Initiative, in accordance with P.L. 2008, c. 46, is spurring the development of affordable, transit-oriented housing across New Jersey. Twenty transit villages have been established under the program to date and two more are currently under review. Numbered among these, the Rahway Transit Village is completing a mixed-use development that will include up to 1,400 affordable, market rate, and luxury-rate housing units. All residences are within a short walk of NJ TRANSIT's Rahway Station. Twenty miles to the north, the Secaucus Transit Village Redevelopment Area is seeking village designation from the state and straddles the recently opened Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station. The former warehousing area has plans for transit-oriented development, including a mix of housing, retail, office, and hotel uses with connections to the Secaucus Junction station and a riverfront park. The village will eventually contain 1,805 residences, including 200 to 300 affordable units as required by P.L. 2008, c. 46.
Mixed-income housing units, thriving retail areas, and office parks are replacing underutilized areas within one-half mile of public transit facilities in New Jersey's communities. Programs similar to New Jersey's Transit Village Initiative that meet the requirements of P.L. 2008, c. 46 can help local governments create new affordable housing opportunities for transit-dependent, low-income families.
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