Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

photo by David Wilson

MZ Strategies has posted a white paper funded by the Ford Foundation, Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development through Community Partnerships and Public Sector Leadership. It opens,

Communities across the country are investing in better transit to connect people of all income levels to regional economic and social opportunity. Transit can be a catalyst for development, and the demand for housing and mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods located near quality transit continues to grow. In some places like Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles (to name just a few) land prices and rents near transit have increased substantially creating concerns with the displacement of small businesses and affordable housing.

In response, multi-sector coalitions are forming in a number of regions to advance Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD), which aims to create and support communities of opportunity where residents of all incomes, ages, races and ethnicities participate in and benefit from living in connected, healthy, vibrant places connected by transit. These transit-oriented communities of opportunity include a mixture of housing, office, retail and other amenities as part of a walkable neighborhood generally located within a half-mile of quality public transportation. This white paper pulls together emerging eTOD best practices from four regions, and highlights opportunities to use federal finance and development programs administered by US Department of Transportation to create and preserve inclusive communities near transit. It offers lessons learned for other communities and a set of recommendations for the Federal Transit Administration to better support local efforts by transit agencies to advance eTOD.

Achieving eTOD involves an inclusive planning process during the transit planning and community development phases. This entails long-term and active engagement of a diverse set of community partners ranging from local residents, small business owners, community development players, and neighborhood-serving organizations located along the proposed or existing transit corridor, to regional anchor institutions and major employers including universities and health care providers, to philanthropy, local and regional agencies and state government partners.

Equitable outcomes require smart, intentional strategies to ensure wide community engagement. Successful eTOD requires planning not just for transit, but also for how this type of catalytic investment can help to advance larger community needs including affordable housing, workforce and small business development, community health and environmental clean-up. (1, footnote omitted)

The report presents e-TOD case studies from Minneapolis-St. Paul; Los Angeles; Seattle and Denver.  These case studies highlight the types of tools that state and local governments can use to maximize the value of transit-oriented design for broad swathes of the community.


Mortgage REITs and Other Frights

The Office of Financial Research in the Department of the Treasury has released its 2013 Annual Report. It describes a number of things that should scare you as you put your head on your pillow at night and dream of the financial markets. It also describes some important steps that OFR is taking to get a handle on these potential nightmares.

One of the nightmares, relevant to readers of this blog, are Mortgage REITs. Mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are “leveraged investment vehicles that borrow shorter-term funds in the repo market and invest in longer-term agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS).” (16) OFR identifies serious problems in this subsector:

Mortgage REITs have grown nearly fourfold since 2008 and now own about $350 billion of MBS, or 5 percent of the agency MBS market. Two firms dominate the sector, collectively holding two-thirds of assets. By leveraging investor funds about eight times, mortgage REITs returned annual dividend yields of about 15 percent to their investors over the past four years, when most fixed-income investments earned far less.Mortgage REITs obtain nearly all of their leverage in the repo market, secured by MBS collateral.

Lenders typically require that borrowers pledge 5 percent more collateral than the value of the loan,which implies that a mortgage REIT that is leveraged eight times must pledge more than 90 percent of its MBS portfolio to secure repo financing, leaving few unencumbered assets on its balance sheet. If repo lenders demand significantly more collateral or refuse to extend credit in adverse circumstances, mortgage REITs may be forced to sell MBS holdings. Timely asset liquidation and settlement may not be feasible in some cases, since a large portion of agency MBS trades occurs in a market that settles only once a month . . ..

Although their MBS holdings account for a relatively small share of the market, distress among mortgage REITs could have impacts on the broader repo market because agency MBS accounts for roughly one-third of the collateral in the triparty repo market. Mortgage REITs also embody interest rate and convexity risks, concentration risk, and leverage. For these reasons, forced-asset sales by mortgage REITs could amplify price declines and volatility in the MBS market and  broader funding markets, particularly in an already stressed market. (17)

Sounds like systemic risk to me.

Happily, the report also contains policy proposals to address some of these systemic risk concerns. First and foremost, it proposes the adoption of a Financial Stability Monitor tool to track financial threats. The OFR also proposes mortgage-specific tools. Reiterating the findings in a recent OFR white paper, the report calls for the creation of a universal mortgage identifier so that regulators and researchers can more quickly identify patterns in the mortgage market. Predicting financial crises is still more of an art than a science but it is a good development that OFR is trying to improve the quality of the data that regulators and researchers have about the financial market.