Equity Forum: Advancing equitable transit-oriented development

Smart Growth America teamed up with the Amazon Housing Equity Fund and several DC-region partners to host a forum on Equitable Transit-oriented Development (ETOD) on Wednesday, December 7. Decision-makers in the public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors gathered to share replicable policies and funding strategies to advance ETOD in our region and across the country. The forum followed a groundbreaking ceremony at Strathmore Square, a mixed-income housing development planned near the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro, adjacent to the Strathmore cultural venue. This Equity Forum on ETOD is a continuation of Smart Growth America’s year-round Equity programming.

“Inequity is not a bug in the system, it’s a feature in the system,” – Calvin Gladney

With a housing access and affordability crisis impacting nearly every corner of the country, a clear first step is to build more housing—but how and where we build additional housing is just as important. As we increase development opportunities, we also know that we can’t continue to replicate the same policies of the past, as the status quo has and continues to exclude many Black, Brown, and low-income communities from the benefits that new investment and development can bring. It takes deliberate action—and intent to center equity—from planners, developers, and policymakers in order to build healthy, prosperous, and resilient places where every member of the community is able to thrive.

On Wednesday, December 7, SGA, Amazon Housing Equity Fund, and additional partners gathered folks from the planning, housing, and transportation spaces for an event, Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: A Forum on the Intersection of Equity, Housing, and Transit to discuss the importance of affordable housing and ETOD and how to change the system in the DC Region and across the country. Held in Bethesda, Maryland, the event allowed leaders in the space to share strategies and policies that ensure equity, affordability, and access are centered in development decisions going forward.

A common refrain at the event was for leaders to be intentional about including equity in all aspects—and throughout every step—of development.

The event also featured presentations from industry thought leaders and practitioners from the DC region, anchored by a provocative keynote speech from SGA’s Calvin Gladney. As the Washington Metro area continues to grow, our speakers explored best practices and ideas for increasing access and ensuring equity in new development, and how these practices can be replicated in communities across the country.

What is equitable transit-oriented development?
Equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) is an approach to building compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented communities around new or existing public transit stations with a commitment to equity goals that ensure low-income residents and residents of color benefit. It includes using strategies to preserve and expand affordable housing, protect tenants and small businesses from rising costs, and connect residents to jobs and economic opportunities.

Smart Growth America co-hosted this event with the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Greater Greater Washington, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“The creation of affordable housing near transit gives residents easier access to employment, schools, health care and more, and is a high-priority for Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund,” – Catherine Buell, Director of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund.

Housing in the Right Place at the Right Price

To open the conversation Liz Price, Vice President of Real Estate & Parking at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, highlighted how important teamwork between private sector partners and creative leaders is to building and completing complex projects. Price also uplifted WMATA’s partnership with Amazon Housing Equity Fund which has resulted in 1,000 units of affordable housing near transit stations. Finally, Price mentioned that including local partners is critical to building housing in the right locations and avoiding housing in the wrong locations.

“It takes dedicated, creative private sector projects to bring these projects forward,” Price said.

All of these aspects, she mentioned, help stakeholders in accomplishing their housing goals and maximizing their housing potential.

“There’s no better location for housing than on top of transit,” Price said.

Following Liz was Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board, Christian Dorsey, who also spoke on affordable housing and regionally-focused planning.

In his presentation, Dorsey detailed the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments’ Region United: Washington Metro Planning Framework for 2030, which includes a list of priorities around smart growth principles, such as equity, transit, land use and housing, and climate change.

“Regional thinking is necessary to bring scale to solving the problems of today,” Dorsey said.

Putting a thumb on the scale for equity

SGA President and CEO Calvin Gladney gave the event’s keynote speech, uplifting equity and access as key priorities so that communities can thrive. Gladney emphasized that inequity is institutionalized and its impacts can be clearly seen in issues around housing access, environmental racism, and quality of life for Black and Brown communities.

Gladney concluded his presentation with a call to action, asking leaders and communities to use every tool at their disposal to make cities and towns more equitable for every person who lives there.

“We have to partner, we have to collaborate, and as leaders, we have to put a thumb on the scale.” – Calvin Gladney, President and CEO, Smart Growth America

Want to learn more about ETOD? You can watch full event recordings on our youtube page.

See the full list of presenters and read their bios here.

Continue the conversation at the Equity Summit on February 7-9, 2023. The summit is a virtual gathering of thought leaders and practitioners who work to ensure that racial equity is a key priority in any smart growth approach. Learn more and get your tickets today!

Advancing Racial Equity