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On June 2015, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs lost a case in the U.S. Supreme Court due to their failure to provide equitable affordable housing under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The U.S. Supreme Court decision has shaken the affordable housing definition by highlighting the importance of location in housing affordability. To best assist low-income families, what should ‘high-opportunity areas’ concretely provide? First and foremost is transportation affordability.

Transportation is more than a sheer convenience for Americans. Looking solely at housing costs is a misleading measure of affordability and a disservice to low-income families. A recent study by the PI, found that, households in 44% of all Multifamily Section 8 properties in the nation, spend on average more than 15 percent of their income on transportation costs, making these properties effectively unaffordable. According to this methodology, more than 73% of Section 8 Multifamily properties in Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) are unaffordable. This study has received extensive media attention by The Dallas Morning News, CityLab and other media outlets.

Yet there is little understanding on the affordability and effectiveness of other rental assistance programs such as Public Housing, LIHTC and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. There is also little understanding about the long term effects of location on low income households in terms of providing accessibility to opportunities and, as a result, affecting the chance of upward mobility.

This study seeks to address these gaps by developing an innovative approach to evaluate the short-term and long-term affordability of all state and federal rental assistance programs in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. We used disaggregated data at the property level and measured built environment variables around each property. We then estimated transportation costs for a typical household that qualifies under these programs using solid transportation costs modeling tailored for low-income households. This study sheds light on the relative merit of each program in ensuring affordability when factoring in transportation costs.

Second, this research seeks to identify long term affordability and opportunities for upward mobility for all census blocks in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region. We produced a series of “Catalyst Areas” maps. Catalyst Areas represent areas with adequate access (by modes other than driving) to major destinations such as educational facilities, healthy food, health care facilities, public transit, and job opportunities. This would help low-income households to not only spend less on transportation, but also, by providing access to opportunities, increase their chance of upward mobility.

Finally, this study provides recommendations to further federal and state initiatives in coordinating housing and transportation and is designed to inform regional and local planners on location-efficient investments. This study also recommends that the priority in affordable housing investments for low-income households should be given to Catalyst Areas.

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TRCLC 16-08