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COG Adopts New Transit and Equity Planning Principles for 2030, Announces Housing Affordability Planning Program With Amazon
[October 13, 2021]

COG Adopts New Transit and Equity Planning Principles for 2030, Announces Housing Affordability Planning Program With Amazon

At its October meeting, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors passed two resolutions committing to prioritize transit and elevate equity in future growth and investment decisions. Officials immediately put these principles to work by approving a new grant program to help add housing near transit for residents of all income levels.

"Today's actions send a clear statement that across the DMV, area leaders want to be more intentional about weaving equity into all of our planning decisions, especially as we focus growth in transit-oriented communities and work to make them more affordable and accessible to everyone," said Robert C. White, Jr., COG Board of Directors Chair and District of Columbia Councilmember.

New housing initiative with Amazon

COG's new Housing Affordability Planning Program (HAPP), made possible with $500,000 in funding from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, will provide grants to local governments and non-profit developers engaged in the planning, approval, or development of housing around transit stations.

The grants will provide each recipient up to $75,000 towards design work, feasibility studies, and zoning analyses to help jumpstart developments. The HAPP joins a portfolio of programs at COG supporting efforts to create transit-oriented communities (TOCs).

"Building on COG's housing targets and our focus on transit-oriented communities, we are pleased to offer this new resource for our member governments to help them overcome barriers and lay the groundwork for more housing, near transit, at affordable prices," said Chuck Bean, COG Executive Director.

"Focusing on transit-oriented communities is an innovative approach to creating equitable economic opportunity," said Catherine Buell, Director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund. "Communities that successfully leverage transit hubs can help us reduce congestion and realize the associated environmental benefits, reduce household transportation expenses, and develop innovative solutions to the region's affordability challenges."

The Amazon Housin Equity Fund is a $2 billion commitment to preserve and create more than 20,000 affordable housing units in Washington State's Puget Sound region; Arlington, Virginia; and Nashville, Tennessee. All three areas are hometown communities where the company expects to have a growing presence in the coming years. The fund also provides an additional $125 million in cash grants to help organizations build more inclusive and equitable solutions to the affordable housing crisis.

New regional focus on transit and equity

At the same meeting, the COG Board endorsed high-capacity transit station areas (HCTs) and equity emphasis areas (EEAs) as key planning concepts and tools through 2030. Successful HAPP projects will incorporate these principles.

Currently, COG has identified 225 HCTs around Metrorail, commuter rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, and streetcar stations that are currently in place or will be by 2030. Although these locations make up just 10 percent of the region's land, 42 percent of metropolitan Washington's new household growth and 55 percent of its new job growth is planned to occur there.

COG has also presently identified 350 of the region's more than 1,200 census tracts as EEAs with high concentrations of low-income individuals and/or racial and ethnic minorities. EEAs were originally developed to analyze transportation impacts but will now be applied more broadly across disciplines.

To optimize these priority places, local jurisdictions can develop a variety of land uses like housing, offices, and shopping as well as improve access to transit and nearby amenities by completing pedestrian and bicycle projects like the National Capital Trail Network or providing bikeshare, e-scooter, or microtransit services.

A unified planning framework for transit-oriented communities

Officials and planners at COG have been increasingly talking about housing, climate, transportation - and equity - together, instead of approaching these issues separately.

For example, while COG's 2030 regional housing targets initiative grew out of transportation planning work focused on improving regional mobility and bringing jobs and housing closer together, officials also recognized the significant environmental, economic, and quality of life benefits gained by adding housing near transit. Similarly, COG's 2030 regional target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its associated action plan outlines various multi-disciplinary solutions.

"Our regional focus on transit-oriented communities and equity will help us achieve multiple, interconnected goals by expanding housing opportunities, maximizing our investment in transit, supporting greener travel options that contribute to our climate goals, and addressing racial inequities in access to housing, transportation, education, and job opportunities," said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall, who chaired the task force that developed the COG Board resolutions on transit and equity.

"The infusion of equity in all of our planning decisions means we are taking the necessary steps to right past wrongs, and we are acting strategically to expand our economy and position ourselves for future success," said Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who served on the COG transit and equity task force. "By approaching issues comprehensively and with equity in mind, we'll be better able to create communities where all residents can live and thrive."

Taken together, these housing and climate targets, coupled with the HCTs and EEAs, now form a unified planning framework focused on transit-oriented communities. Moving forward, COG will be sharing resources and updates on how officials are putting these planning principles into action.

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