Caltrain transit-oriented development, affordable housing, and equitable access

On Thursday, the Caltrain board will review for approval a transit-oriented development policy, including a policy for affordable housing. This is an important policy in itself, and as part of the broader picture of improving equitable access to Caltrain. 

The proposed policies include:

  • A requirement for developers to build 30% affordable homes
  • A goal to maximize density and height for development
  • A policy to limit onsite parking for private development and to encourage encourages strategies such as unbundled parking, shared parking facilities, and/or transportation demand management.

In addition, the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County is encouraging:

  • A system-wide policy that applies to all Caltrain-owned sites.
  • A requirement that Caltrain staff negotiate with affordable housing developers first, prior to any other parties.
  • A requirement to prioritize proposals that produce the most affordable units at the deepest levels of affordability, and the most housing units overall.

For comparison, the VTA and BART have a policy to provide 35% Below Market Rate housing overall, and VTA has an additional goal to provide 20% BMR per project.  

For perspective, Caltrain has a lot less land available for transit-oriented development than BART or VTA.  BART has about 250 acres at 27 stations, and VTA has over 180 acres. By contrast, Caltrain has identified less than 12 acres of land that isn’t reserved for the rail system of which 2 properties totaling 5 acres are “larger” (over 1.5 acres) and the remaining 7 properties are less than 1.5 acres in size.  

Land near Caltrain tends to be very valuable for offices, and having offices near Caltrain is good. But, the Peninsula Corridor also has a steep jobs/housing imbalance and policies supporting homes can moderate the imbalance.

Caltrain recently assessed how much land could be available for its “Rail Corridor Use Policy” which identifies Caltrain-owned land that is needed for current and future rail system use; and land that could potentially be used for development.

Equitable access to Caltrain

Caltrain’s transit-oriented development and affordable housing policies are also part of the broader picture of improving equitable access to Caltrain.

As a next step in Caltrain’s business plan, Caltrain is doing an equity study to assess ways to grow ridership by making Caltrain accessible to a greater diversity of people. Currently, Caltrain riders have an annual household income of $129,000. A variety of strategies, including affordable housing, fares, schedules, and station access could be used to improve equitable access.  Stay tuned for information about the results of the study for more opportunities to diversify Caltrain’s rider base.