Transit is trendy, and there is a growing demand for real estate development close to transit, said Jennifer L. Dorn, a federal transportation official who addressed Realtors during a presentation at the National Association of Realtors annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

“Transit is really in a building boom,” said Dorn, administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, a U.S. Department of Transportation agency that has an annual budget of about $7 billion. “Transit-oriented development has the potential to become an unprecedented catalyst for community growth.”

Dorn spoke during a legislative and political issues forum at the association’s conference. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a longtime advocate of transit-oriented development, also spoke at the forum.

An estimated 14.6 million new households may be looking for housing within a half-mile radius of fixed-guideway transit stations by 2025, compared with about 6 million households in 2000, according to a study on transit-oriented development called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Capturing the Demand for Housing Near Transit.”

The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, an Oakland, Calif.-based division of the nonprofit organization Reconnecting America, released the study in September. There are about 108 million U.S. households.

There are about 3,340 fixed transit stops across the country, with plans for an additional 630 stations by 2025. Dozens of transit projects across the country are in final design stages, and dozens more pending projects that are awaiting federal money.

In the decades that followed World War II, the American Dream for many people was an affordable home away from urban areas, Dorn said, though that dream is coming full circle and is leading people back to city centers.

“We have already seen that American home buyers are creating a new version of the American Dream. Their interpretation of the American Dream doesn’t involve a home in the suburbs,” she said.

There are signs that Americans are becoming weary of the “car culture,” she said. “A gallon of gas for a gallon of milk is a terrible exchange rate.” The Reconnecting America study found that households close to transit systems have fewer cars, on average, than households that are a greater distance away from these systems.

Meanwhile, home-ownership rates tend to be lower in transit zones than in other parts of metro areas. While the average home-ownership rate in transit zones was about 31 percent, the rate was about 66 percent for U.S. metro regions overall, according to the study.

Also, the potential demand for transit-oriented housing may be higher than average in such metro areas as Tampa Bay, Fla.; Baltimore; Houston; Atlanta; and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.; among others, the study states.

In 2003, 25 new transit projects were being built under full-funding grant agreements with the Federal Transit Administration, 52 projects were in some stage of federal approval, and about 151 additional projects were named in the last federal transportation bill.

About 27 metropolitan regions currently operate some form of fixed-route transit, according to the report, which includes rail systems, streetcars, trolley buses, bus rapid transit and cable cars.

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Among the new metro areas that are building fixed-guideway transit systems for the first time: Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Fort Collins, Colo.; Las Vegas; Nashville, Tenn.; and Reading, Pa. Metro areas with major expansion plans include: New Orleans, Seattle, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Phoenix, and New York, among others.

Blumenauer said that the intention with building more transit-friendly development is not to “force people out of their cars” or building “Stalinist-style high-rises.” Rather, he said, it’s intended to provide more choice – “providing the inventory to meet the needs of all of your citizens.”

Blumenauer and Dorn appealed to Realtors to support initiatives to bring more housing to transit stops. In particular, Blumenauer expressed a need to support a federal transportation bill that has been hung up in Congress. “We need your help to serve as a bridge, as a conduit, to make sure this discussion does not bog down,” he said. “You need this to spark the economy, to stabilize your community.”

He said that about one-third of American’s trips by plane are 350 miles or less, and new transit systems could eliminate the need for such short flights. Citizens must be involved in shaping these transit projects, Blumenauer said. “If the community is not involved, they will throw it back in your face, even if it’s the best plan in the world.”


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