Now here's a novel idea: if you want to encourage density in your metro area, bribe people.
Perhaps that's too strong a word. But the "Live Near Your Work" pilot program in Washington, D.C. aims to do just that by soliciting applications (.pdf) from people to receive grants of $12,000 -- $6,000 from their employer, $6,000 from the city -- to help with a down payment or closing costs to move closer to their place of employment or public transit.
The goal is noble: preserve and revitalize neighborhoods in the district through leverage, by tempting folks who use vehicles to commute to give them up. The idea is to reverse some of the auto-driven sprawl seen in some major metropolitan areas that are dense enough to support greater public transit use but, for reasons of history or development or transportation culture of the last 50 years, don't.
For now, the pilot program is designed to award between 30 and 60 area workers the grants. But as a pilot program, it should be able to scale, and that's where you run into problems, writes Lydia DePillis of the Washington City Paper:
You can't knock the intention here. But the method raises questions: Will $12,000 actually convince many people to move closer to their jobs? The map attached to the request for applications makes clear that the eligible areas cover most of D.C., and the grants are available to people at any income level—might this grant just throw free money at people who were planning to move somewhere else anyway? The program, which can help a maximum of 60 people at the minimum grant amount, is supposed to be a pilot, and pilots are supposed to be scalable—does D.C. propose to solve its commuter problem by paying everyone who's willing to relocate near transit or within walking distance of work?
This just doesn't seem to be a very smart way to go about smart growth.
Matt Yglesias adds at Think Progress:
How about this as an alternative: Higher taxes on downtown parking garages, and the revenue reduces residential property taxes? Or if the problem is that affordable housing is scarce near Metro stations, how about rezone for denser building near the stations? Meanwhile, it actually seems to me that Metro is super-crowded at rush hours and that on the Red, Blue, and Orange lines we have very little ability to increase rush hour capacity. We really ought to be thinking about building more Metro lines unless we’re expecting population growth to halt.
What would you do?
Photo: Heather M. Rice/Destination DC