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Alameda County – Affordable Housing Anchors Transit Oriented Development

Case Story

Community: San Leandro (Alameda County)

Population: 81,851


With a goal of increasing transit ridership in a ½ mile radius of the downtown Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, the City of San Leandro received a planning grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to focus on the proposed downtown bus rapid transit corridor and existing BART service. The city applied transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies to improve connections and increase transit ridership by providing an environment in the downtown retail core that is safe, secure, and accessible to pedestrians, bicyclist, transit riders and automobiles, while also increasing the supply of housing affordable to local employees.

Health Connection

Mixing commercial and residential uses (such as housing above ground-floor offices and shops) places residents within walking distance of stores, restaurants and other businesses, creating neighborhoods that are vibrant, promote social cohesion, and encourage bicycling and walking for recreation and transportation.

Healthy neighborhoods provide residents a range of housing types – single family, duplexes, and apartments – to suit their needs. Providing affordable housing options supports the development of communities that include residents of different income levels and encourages the expansion of the local workforce.

Program Highlights

  • Involving property owners and developers early in the planning process increases the chances for building consensus.
  • Robust community and advocacy group outreach efforts and involvement make for a more unique and engaged citizens advisory committee (CAC).
  • Mixing MTC funding for planning and Prop 1C funding for housing leveraged the creation of 3,400 residential units, 720,000 square feet of office space, and 120,000 square feet of retail.

Lessons Learned

  • Finding the right affordable housing development partner can ensure well managed, high quality workforce housing that anchors the transit-oriented development and contributes to revitalization of the downtown core.
  • Engaging more than “the usual suspects” in the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) brings legitimacy to the effort and widens the scope of interests represented.
  • Embracing the involvement of advocacy organizations (like the Great Communities Collaborative and Urban Habitat) in the planning process and making it easier for diverse groups to participate (such as by providing language translations services) increases involvement by resident in meetings and other project activities.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…


In 2005, under a pilot program for station area planning offered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the city applied transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies to increase transit access and ridership by providing additional housing and enhancing the downtown environment. Caltrans defines transit-oriented development as a moderate- to higher-density development located within an easy walk of a major transit stop, generally with a mix of residential, employment, and shopping opportunities designed for pedestrians without excluding the auto.

Engaging new and diverse stakeholders in the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) through partnerships with advocacy organizations increased collaboration and made for a community driven plan that gained wide acceptance. Three community meetings attracted over 240 residents. The high resident attendance rates are attributed to successful outreach activities, including flyer distribution to downtown business owners and tenants, newspaper ads, direct mailings, and engaging advocacy groups. A key strategy throughout the entire process was to encourage the CAC, technical advisory committee (TAC), and city departments to focus on areas of agreement in the planning process rather than spinning their wheels on the issues where participants didn’t agree.

A key piece of the TOD strategy was the inclusion of workforce housing. Outreach to the impacted property owners to educate and involve them in the process and invite their input was a vital step to building support for the inclusion of affordable housing. Of particular interest to this project was working with the owner of a vacant property immediately adjacent to BART. Armed with the knowledge that the residential public transit capture rate is 40% verses that of retail or office at 10%, the TAC supported the vacant property owner’s effort to apply for Proposition 1 C funding for infill and transit-oriented housing projects through the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Applicability to Other Communities

By reframing challenges as opportunities and focusing on areas of agreement and similarity rather than on areas of tension, local agencies can build consensus and advance plans that address the needs of a community with diverse interests. For example, concentrating on finding the right affordable housing redevelopment partner and on the role that affordable workforce housing can play in increasing transit ridership and making mixed-use downtown redevelopment successful kept all of the stakeholders motivated and resulted in a more comprehensive effort than originally envisioned.


Compiled December 2009

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