Academic journal article Cityscape

Affordable Housing and Walkable Neighborhoods: A National Urban Analysis

Academic journal article Cityscape

Affordable Housing and Walkable Neighborhoods: A National Urban Analysis

Article excerpt


In the United States today, a significant danger exists that walkable neighborhoods with access to quality amenities are becoming scarce for low-income residents. For our purposes, walkable neighborhoods are those that offer walking access to sendees and amenities, including transit, and incorporate a pedestrian-oriented, interconnected street network. Our goal is to provide a foundation to better understand what kinds of strategies could be used to retain affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods. To do that, we need to know (1) where, and to what degree, walkability and affordability are in alignment; (2) whether the benefit of affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods is compromised by negative factors such as crime, poor market strength, and racial segregation; and (3) what other neighborhood factors are associated with walkability and affordability.

Although households in the United States walk the least of households in any industrialized nation (Bassett et ah, 2010), the benefits of walkability and walking are well documented (for summaries, see Brown and Plater-Zyberk, 2014; Talen and Koschinsky, 2014b, 2013). Demand for living in neighborhoods with walkable access to amenities and work has been increasing simultaneously (Nelson, 2013; U.S. DOT 2011, 2009). The same research shows that the supply of housing in such neighborhoods has not kept pace, however. Although all households face price premiums for living near amenities, accessible neighborhoods are especially hard to afford for low-income households (Adkins, 2013). The problem is exacerbated when trying to preserve affordable housing within the context of a walkable neighborhood, because walkable and affordable are often at odds. No longer is the goal a matter of producing affordable housing wherever cheap land is found, but affordability is sought in places where land, because of its accessibility, is likely to be more expensive.

Assisted housing for low-income tenants could be one of the mechanisms to increase the accessibility of walkable neighborhoods. It is one of the goals of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which administers the funding for some of the nation's largest subsidized housing programs (the U.S. Treasury administers others), to promote subsidized housing in socalled "sustainable communities;" that is, neighborhoods that are walkable, mixed use, diverse, and dense and that have good transit access. Recent HUD initiatives such as Choice Neighborhoods, financial support of the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Location Affordability Index, Office of Policy Development and Research studies on coordinating housing and transit, and Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities illustrate this focus.

A number of unresolved issues remain, however, and research on the link between affordable housing and walkable locations has uncovered a number of complexities (Been et al, 2010; Pendall and Parilla, 2011; Wen and Zhang, 2009). One issue is that neighborhoods can be walkable in terms of urban form dimensions like small block size and land use diversity, but such neighborhoods might not be the ones that offer the most employment access, the least crime, or the best schools. In some cases, the same indicators of walkability that are appreciated in higher income neighborhoods might not have the same value in neighborhoods where crime is prevalent (Talen and Koschinsky, 2011). Other studies found that the benefits of walkable access to amenities were not realized because of high levels of neighborhood crime (Cutts et al, 2009; Roman and Chalfin, 2008). What needs to be accounted for is whether the interaction between physical form and social disadvantage negates the positive effects of the built environment, or whether it results in some compromising factors that need to be mitigated. We stipulate that poor neighborhood quality lessens the potential benefits of walkability.

Accessibility per se turns out not to be linearly related to income, as we will demonstrate, because many suburban areas are characterized by higher incomes and less walkable access. …

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