Taking a step forward: A better way to condition transportation funding on housing performance

This past Monday, Governor Newsom announced that climate pollution continues to drop–which is great news! However, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission continues to rise from the transportation sector, primarily from passenger vehicles. Back in January, Governor Newsom released a bold proposition in his first budget: the state would withhold gas tax funds from regions who did not meet state housing goals. While the details were murky (as you can see in this excellent article from Streetsblog California), the idea was tantalizing to many sustainable transportation advocates.  Why? Because transportation and housing have a clear nexus: they help to determine the true “affordability” of a place, as shown by the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s H&T Affordability Index. Transportation is also one of the biggest drivers for sprawl development, which leads to longer commutes, poor air quality, lack of access to social services, and encroachment on agricultural lands and wildlife habitats.

However, legislators pushed back strongly on tying transportation funding and housing performance.  A compromise was reached for the budget: the state can fine communities that don’t plan for affordable housing construction. While ClimatePlan’s staff and partners understand and value compromise, California needs ambitious and thoughtful solutions to solve the deeply intertwined and complex problem of housing affordability, climate change, and transportation. Transportation cannot remain in a silo from housing and climate; to solve these issues we have to recognize (and act on) their inherent connections. 

Integrated Solutions are necessary to tackle California’s challenges

California’s challenges around climate change, growing inequity among class and race, conversion of natural and working lands to urban uses, worsening air quality, and rising housing costs are interconnected. To address these challenges, California needs integrated climate, housing, and transportation solutions—acting together, these solutions will not only put California on track to achieve its climate goals but also address historic inequities, protect natural and working lands, improve air quality, and address California’s housing crisis.

The ClimatePlan network supports better alignment of the state’s transportation investments with its housing goals by conditioning transportation funds on housing performance. In regards to the state’s housing goal, we also want to emphasize: California’s housing goals should not be defined by production numbers alone; California’s housing goal must align with the state’s goals for climate, health, and equity as established by laws like SB 375, SB 32, AB 686, and others.

Housing stock in San FranciscoInitial guidance to condition transportation funds on housing performance

For years, we’ve worked hard to shift transportation investments away from roads and highways to create more sustainable, and equitable development. Now, with this new Administration’s focus on better connecting transportation and housing, California has a unique opportunity to address how transportation funds are planned and spent to advance its goals around housing and climate. To continue moving this opportunity forward, the ClimatePlan network and allies worked together to develop these initial principles to guide the work to condition transportation funding on housing performance:

  • Prioritize the needs of low income households. California’s housing affordability crisis is most acute for households with low, very-low, and extremely-low incomes. A focus on production of more market-rate housing alone will not solve the housing crisis for the majority of California’s residents, particularly those that are most vulnerable. The metrics for receiving conditioned transportation dollars should include production of housing affordable at all income levels and prioritize the preservation of existing affordable housing.

  • Build new housing near existing jobs, transit, or other infrastructure in both rural and urban areas. We are in a housing affordability crisis and a climate crisis. In both the 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update and the 2018 Progress Report on Sustainable Communities Strategies, the California Air Resources Board found that to meet our 2030 and 2050 climate goals we need to significantly reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) through more efficient land use and increased transportation options – we cannot reach our goals with electrification alone. Infill and location-efficient housing reduces the need to drive often and long distances, as measured by VMT. In addition, more efficient land use not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but also offers additional benefits: reducing VMT preserves natural resources, improves public health, reduces household costs, and can offer more equitable access to transportation options, essential services, jobs, and opportunity.

  • Couple infill investments with inclusionary and anti-displacement protections. Targeted investments towards infill can add to gentrification and displacement pressures on the low-income residents in these existing communities. Investments and policies must proactively guard against the perpetuation of historical patterns of segregation, ensure that vulnerable residents equitably reap the benefits of investments, and affirmatively further fair housing. Building and preserving affordable housing and protecting against displacement are proven strategies to meet our state’s climate goals and to improve social equity and economic outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. Metrics focused on market-rate production that fail to include anti-displacement components could undermine all of these goals by fueling displacement and keeping low-wage workers (who are much more likely than others to ride transit) trapped by long drives to jobs. Priority should be given to jurisdictions that have such inclusionary and anti-displacement policy protections in place. To this end, ClimatePlan network partners have developed the Commitment to Investment without Displacement, a platform of recommended principles to protect against displacement while encouraging investment in California’s cities and towns.

  • Tailor strategies to meet the unique needs of different geographies, including rural communities. The needs and solutions to affordable housing, densification, and low-VMT land use development differ widely across California’s varying geographies and ecosystems, as well as across urban, suburban, and rural community types. Special attention must be given to these differences to ensure chosen metrics for the conditioning of transportation funding do not further disadvantage rural low-income unincorporated communities.

  • Do not condition transit and active transportation dollars. Transit and active transportation funds are already severely limited and are relied upon disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color—the same groups who are suffering disproportionately from a lack of affordable rental housing.

What’s next?

Right now, ClimatePlan partners and allies are meeting with key state agencies to share this initial guidance. While the initial proposal isn’t moving forward, important groundwork has been laid and we believe we have an opportunity to shape a future proposal to ensure that this effort addresses California’s challenges and puts on the path to a more sustainable, equitable, and healthier California.

If you are interested in this work, become a partner today to be a part of the effort to shape California policy.

Our Strategic Direction


get updates