Will rail transit spawn more affordable housing on Oahu?
On the contrary, there is no inherent reason why new housing near stations will ever be affordable. People living near stations would be among the few beneficiaries of this otherwise useless system, so the new housing would have added value, making it more expensive. This has been the case, for example, with one of California’s new rail systems in Pasadena, where expensive housing is going up near stations at Del Mar, Arroyo Parkway and Memorial Park. Ironically, upper-income people in these units are less likely to use rail.
Six billion dollars is an astronomically huge number, difficult to comprehend, but consider this: We could have spent $2 billion on a real traffic solution — new elevated lanes for express buses and carpool — and have $4 billion remaining, which could either have been left with the taxpayers to help them pay for their own housing, or if it were to be used by government, it could pay for construction of an entire new city. Assuming that economies of scale in a massive new housing project would enable an apartment to be constructed for $200,000, we could build 20,000 new apartments for $4 billion and then rent or sell them at truly affordable prices. This is equal to all the homes in Mililani and all existing public housing units combined. Traffic and housing solved!
Instead, the city is planning to waste our precious money on false solutions. Rail will suck $6 billion out of our economy and leave us in permanent traffic gridlock, while producing a fiscal black hole with no money left over to deal with our real issues.
The building of a rail transit line in Honolulu provides the opportunity to create more affordable housing on Oahu. If done correctly, transit-oriented development improves air quality and reduces auto traffic congestion by developing more “urban-scale” buildings with reduced parking ratios and ready access to transit. This allows developers to include affordable housing in the mix of uses surrounding a rail station.
This type of affordable housing is more desirable because the housing is part of a complete community, not isolated in separate complexes. Affordable housing has sprung up around many of the stations along the Portland MAX system because it makes sense to attract people who are inclined to use transit to areas near the best transit. Similar examples are seen along BART in the San Francisco Bay area and in Sacramento.
Oahu is also seeing an increase in the number of elderly people. This is likely to result in a need for more retirement homes, developments with special features such as wheelchair access and housing options with easy access to transit. Honolulu’s rail system will serve many communities where these possibilities can be easily realized.
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