Skyrocketing home prices and traffic are two of the primary factors decreasing the quality of life across the region–and a recent RPA report suggests the answer might be in the untapped opportunities at regional rail stations in suburban communities surrounding New York.

The study advocates for improving zoning regulations to allow for multi-family housing around regional rail stations, leveraging this existing infrastructure to develop units at a range of price points without causing more sprawl or strain on existing neighborhoods. The study finds that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ template for these new developments, but rather a range– from neighborhood developments like townhomes and garden apartments to small-but-bustling village downtowns to major job and economic centers. What they have in common is proximity to transit, a pedestrian-oriented nature, and the density needed to support the economy and community that are necessary for healthy and livable neighborhoods.  

The report finds that that 61% of municipalities near train stations in the tri-state region limit sustainable and inclusive development. It also offers a blueprint for creating over 250,000 new homes by developing unused parking space unlocked by shared, on-demand and autonomous vehicles

The study looks to the introduction of shared, on-demand and autonomous vehicles as an opportunity to bring more vital uses and vibrant amenities to areas that are today just parking lots. Within 20 years the vast majority of auto trips in the region will be made with these new forms of transportation, according to RPA’s research. Rather than letting parking near rail stations fall into disuse and blight, the study recommends building over 250,000 new homes within complete neighborhoods with enough shops, offices, community centers, parks, and schools to support them. These new neighborhoods will stimulate the surrounding economies with new open space, commercial and community facilities as well.

The RPA report outlines the following recommendations for local municipalities and suburban communities within commuting distance of New York City or other commercial centers:

  • Allow for and encourage multifamily and mixed-use development in proximity to all train stations, to create walkable, transit-oriented communities. By proactively zoning for multifamily, mixed-use development near rail stations, we can create the walkable, transit-oriented communities that are in demand today and needed for the future.
  • Make infrastructure funding contingent on enacting new zoning laws to better coordinate infrastructure with growth. Planning grants and technical assistance should be provided to assist municipalities, and state infrastructure funding should be contingent on municipalities enacting zoning to allow multifamily housing in appropriate locations.
  • Reform federal financing mechanisms to allow for easier mixed-use development which will develop the region’s smaller downtown areas.  Federal financing through HUD, the FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are used in the vast majority of new housing development; however, restrictions on the proportion of commercial space and income allowed in these developments often don’t allow for the type of two- or three-story mixed-use development common to the region’s smaller downtowns, and needed in commercial strips and near transit.  
  • Institute inclusionary housing requirements region-wide, and a state requirement in New York that all municipalities provide affordable housing opportunities.  Two of the region’s states, Connecticut and New Jersey, require that all municipalities provide affordable housing opportunities.  New York State should join its neighbors in implementing a similar system.
  • Keep and expand our transit-oriented development possibilities by investing in our suburban transit systems. Transit-oriented development can only thrive when the nearby transit is reliable and affordable.  More funding is necessary for the MTA, NJ Transit and Connecticut Transit to maintain existing standards and improve service and capacity on our trans and buses. 

View the full report.