By Transit, By-Right: How Housing Development Approval Processes Can Support Higher Transit-Friendly Density

Research Team: Paavo Monkkonen (lead), Shane Phillips, Michael Manville, and Nolan Gray

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Los Angeles County has spent tens of billions of dollars to build over 100 miles of rail transit, but today per capita transit ridership is 40 percent lower than before rail construction began. One reason for this startling failure is that Los Angeles’ auto-oriented, low-density, parking-heavy landscape is not conducive to transit use. A low supply of housing, high housing prices that burden the lower-income residents most likely to ride transit, and overall low density implies fewer homes near transit for people of all incomes, meaning fewer people living where they could plausibly drive less and use transit more. One way to encourage higher housing densities and a more, transit-friendly future, may be to increase by-right housing construction approvals, but a rigorous evidence base for this assertion is missing, because few cities permit a significant number of similar discretionary and by-right projects, so valid comparisons are lacking.

Project Description: This project used the City of Los Angeles’ Transit-Oriented Communities (TOC) program to help identify the role of by-right approval in delivering more housing near transit. The TOC program presents a rare opportunity to compare the impact of by-right and discretionary approvals in a single political and market context. The analysis compared costs, project timelines, and community benefits of by-right and nearby discretionary projects. The research team estimated reductions in project costs and time to market resulting from by-right approvals compared to affordable units provided by developers. This quantitative analysis was complemented by interviews with developers, community-based organizations, lenders, city officials, and others. The research team found that by-right projects were permitted 28% faster than discretionary projects, controlling for project and neighborhood characteristics. By-right projects also had less variance in their approval times, suggesting that by-right approval offers not just more speed but more certainty.

Status: Completed

Budget: $78,800

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