Cincinnati Regional Economic Development Analysis Finds Streetcar Would Increase Access to 100,000 Existing Jobs and Reduce the Cost of Living

CHICAGO (April 7, 2011)—A new analysis of Cincinnati’s regional economy has found that the city’s proposed streetcar plan would increase access to more than 100,000 jobs, including those at six Fortune 500 companies, the University of Cincinnati, and two hospitals. The analysis also found that the streetcar would reduce the cost of living in Over-the-Rhine and enable the city to capitalize on national real estate trends when the economy and housing market rebound. The report, produced by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) with guidance from nearly 50 leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, shows that focusing development around the region’s existing assets—such as its historic, walkable neighborhoods—would foster economically and environmentally sustainable growth.

“Once again, hard facts come down on the side of the streetcar,” said Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. “This study shows how the streetcar plan would be a catalyst for a vibrant, connected Cincinnati where people of varying incomes and backgrounds could live, work and play.”

The CNT streetcar analysis is part of a broader study of Cincinnati’s current economic, demographic and housing situation and expected future trends. The report found that the region’s history of sprawling development and a disconnect between housing supply and demand have hindered rather than fostered economic development. The study found that:

  • Residents spend more than $6.5 billion dollars per year to pay for transportation, with gas costs alone draining $900 million dollars from the local economy. As Cincinnati residents face gas prices of $4 per gallon, their total spending on gasoline could surge beyond $2.5 billion a year if their travel patterns stay the same.
  • Since 2000, homebuilders constructed 38,000 more homes than the market could support.
  • Foreclosures have swept into auto-dependent, high-transportation-cost neighborhoods along I‐71 and I‐75.
  • Retirees and young professionals are projected to demand more compact development through 2030, but as a whole these kinds of developments are in short supply in Cincinnati.

The report also found that many households in Cincinnati are living in communities they cannot afford. Under the traditional view of housing affordability—housing should cost no more than 30 percent of income—75 percent of 10 Cincinnati households are living in affordable housing, according to the 2000 Census.

However, the conventional view of affordability fails to consider transportation costs, the second largest expenditure in household budgets. Households located in compact, mixed‐use, transit‐rich communities typically have lower transportation costs than households in auto-dependent neighborhoods, because they can use their feet, a bike, or transit to get to work, school and the grocery store. CNT’s Housing + Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index reveals that only four in 10 households (44%) live in neighborhoods with combined housing and transportation costs below a more holistic benchmark of 45 percent of household income.

According to the CNT analysis, the streetcar would help keep housing affordable. Residents from auto-dependent neighborhoods who move into areas served by the streetcar could cut their typical transportation budget by half—and those savings would grow as new amenities follow and gas prices rise, as they have over the past decade.

The Cincinnati streetcar plan has already had a positive impact on the neighborhoods it would connect. The study found that people have started purchasing and renting homes in anticipation of the streetcar. Data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act reveals that recent mortgages around Central Parkway are reaching as high as $250,000, even in the down market.

“Demand for my units is so high that I can’t imagine where it will be once the economy takes off and when the streetcar is built,” said Bill Baum of Urban Sites, a development firm in Over-the-Rhine. “People have come to me looking for apartments along Elm Street because they have read about the streetcar in the paper.”

“Our research here in Cincinnati and across Ohio and the country shows that households, jobs, and transportation options comprise the ‘three-legged stool’ of household affordability and sustainable economic development,” said María Choca Urban, CNT’s Director of Transportation and Community Development. “The region’s economic development efforts need to ensure new and existing jobs are accessible to other businesses, retain a diverse workforce, and offer multiple transportation options. The streetcar would do this, and it’s woefully short-sighted to throw away this opportunity.”

CONTACT:
Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology, erobinson@cnt.org, 773-269-4043

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Founded in 1978, CNT is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on climate, energy, natural resources, transportation, and community development.. Visit www.cnt.org for more information.