New Bill Would Target Transit Funding to Places that Allow Housing Density

On Thursday, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced a bill intended to alleviate the national housing supply shortage, which is acute in coastal areas such as Rep. Peters’ San Diego district. Since the housing shortage is primarily caused by local zoning restrictions, finding appropriate federal levers can be a challenge.

Rep. Peters has correctly identified large-scale transit funding as a key way that the federal government interacts with the local planning and zoning process. His Build More Housing Near Transit Act would instruct the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to take a more complete view of housing opportunities in its grant-making process.

Mass transit only makes sense when it can be used by a large number of people—thus, in dense areas. Low-density areas, even where the roads are often congested, generally cannot support transit. But transit is planned by one bureaucracy and land use is regulated by another one. The Peters bill would force the transit bureaucracy to at least find out what the land use regulators are doing before laying down millions of dollars’ worth of train tracks.

Peters’ bill, which was unveiled with several cosponsors and endorsements from a long list of organizations, is the second bill introduced this summer with the aim of positioning the federal government on the “Yes” side of “in my backyard” debate, following Sen. Todd Young’s (R-IN) YIMBY Bill.

The best chance for the Build More Housing Near Transit Act to become law may be as part of the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which expires in 2020. Whether that occurs may be an indication of whether the transportation establishment can absorb a priority from the housing market.

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