Elizabeth Presutti has the Floor

General Manager of Dart

Elizabeth Presutti has the Floor

Not many people know that I grew up living in affordable housing.

My mother was the resident manager of an affordable housing complex outside of Buffalo, New York. So I have long been familiar with the important role that affordable housing plays in the lives and livelihoods of people and their communities

Affordable housing is more than the “safety net” that some people think of it as. It also supports local economies with the work force they require, including the teachers, fire fighters, bankers and others who have been highlighted in the Polk County Housing Trust Fund’s “Can I Be Your Neighbor?” campaign.

Though I’m a firm believer in affordable housing, I didn’t end up working in the industry like my mother did. Instead, I landed in public transit, and today I am the general manager of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART).

These experiences have given me a deep understanding of how these industries overlap, and I hope to use my perspective to benefit the PCHTF’s Board of Directors. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned:

1.     Affordable housing is inseparably linked to affordable transportation.You really can’t have one without the other. A house far outside a major city might be inexpensive to purchase initially – but it’s not an affordable place to live if you spend all your savings getting to and from jobs, stores and essential services. 

2.     Quality public transit is critical to affordable transportation.  A city that values affordable housing also values quality public transit, because it supplies the affordable transportation that keeps “affordable housing” affordable. 

3.     In public transit, “quality” requires “high frequency.”  For public transit to be an affordable option for a wide range of people, it has to run often enough to meet their wide range of transportation needs. The best transit lines need to not only connect people to their jobs, stores and essential services; the buses also have to run often enough so people can make their trips when they need to, be it morning, afternoon or evening.

4.     The most affordable housing is close to quality public transit. The best location for affordable housing is near a quality public transit. Ideally, affordable housing is located within one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile from a transit route that operates with regularity all day long.

The last thing I’d like to say is this: It’s easy to talk about the natural marriage of affordable housing and public transit. It’s much harder to actually put into practice, especially when there are competing bottom lines.

Developers may save costs by building affordable housing far outside the city, but someone pays the price for increased transportation costs.  If transit lines needed to be extended, for example, the increased cost would be picked up by user fees and taxpayers.

Conversely, developers may spend a little more on affordable housing that is near established corridors with quality transit – but that up-front investment will be passed on as savings for the people who live there.

For my part, I hope in my role on the PCHTF Board of Directors that I can help foster discussions about the inseparable link between affordable housing and affordable transportation.