HUD's Prosperity Playbook Could Boost Denver Housing and Transportation

Working with APA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has convened a series of meetings around the country to identify local best practices and policy innovations designed to promote economic mobility, access to opportunity, and inclusive growth.

APA member Susan Wood, AICP, was on hand for the meeting in Denver earlier this month. We caught up with her to find out what her biggest takeaways from the meeting were:

Why is it important for planners to be involved in the Prosperity Playbook conversation?

Planning, by definition, is holistic and includes the systematic determination of stakeholders, the perspective of each stakeholder, opportunities and constraints, and the information needed to address issues and problems to creatively determine potential solutions.

Likewise, planners by nature are generally collaborative and are cognizant of the fact that good planning cannot be done in a vacuum.

To tackle the complex issue of affordable housing and to create pathways to economic prosperity, a multidisciplinary approach and a collaborative spirit, both embodied by planners, are absolutely necessary to initiate the dialogue that will yield innovative tools and results.

You're a regional transportation planner. How do you see the HUD Playbook helping the Denver metro area to move toward greater economic mobility?

The importance of access to transportation has long been recognized as a critical factor in the ability of disadvantaged populations to open the door to employment and educational opportunities that can spur upward mobility.

An ambitious transit expansion throughout the Denver Metro area has been under way since 2004 that will provide transportation and also create opportunities for new transit-oriented communities at station areas across the region.

However, with the addition of development opportunities, comes an increase in real estate value and gentrification of existing working class neighborhoods. As a result, those who most need transit are not able to take advantage of all that living near it has to offer.

To create economic prosperity for all members of the community, we need to think beyond percentage requirements for affordable housing included in zoning, and be innovative in our approach to pull together all tools and innovations that can address rising real estate values.

What do you see as the greatest challenge in increasing access to opportunity-rich neighborhoods?

There are a number of functional barriers such as affordability or access to transportation that present challenges in increasing access to neighborhoods that offer opportunity. However, the greatest challenge has been, and continues to be, the societal mindset and the prejudices that continue to exist today. Education that leads to knowledge and understanding is the only way to "chip away" at these mental roadblocks.

There was time during the meeting to break into smaller groups to consider workforce development, affordable housing, and transportation. You were in the transportation group — what was the focus of this group's conversation? Were there lessons learned from the workforce development or affordable housing groups?

The transportation group discussed linking housing to transit to jobs. As a group, we focused on what we are doing well in Denver and also considered challenges where work is needed.

To name a couple of items, the TOD fund — a low-interest finance tool intended to create and preserve affordable housing near transit facilities — and the hub and spoke transit system in Denver were discussed as positives. Negatives or challenges noted were a lack of funding for sidewalks and bike facilities that would provide alternative modes of transportation and the need to address the first and last mile with regard to transit.

The affordable housing group noted that there are opportunities that exist to have shared housing that would allow shared expenses and situations where seniors could share housing with a younger housemate that would provide the opportunity for seniors to stay in their homes. A limiting factor is existing zoning regulations that do not permit house-sharing among nonrelated members.

As with transportation, funding for programs is an issue.

About the Author

Susan A. Wood, AICP, is a planning project manager in the FasTracks Environmental Resource Group of the Regional Transportation District in Denver and serves as the planning project manager for the Southeast and Southwest Rail extensions, and the environmental manager for the North Metro Rail Line. Prior to joining RTD, she worked in local government, most recently as the manager of Long Range Planning for Douglas County, Colorado.

Image: Denver at  night. Photo by Flickr user AJ Schroetlin (CC BY-NC 2.0).

March 30, 2016

By Susan Wood, FAICP