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Challenge Sprawl


Smart Growth and Affordable Housing:
A Partnership for Success

houseAffordable Housing Crisis Plagues America
More Americans than ever before live in inadequate housing or spend more than half of their monthly income on housing. As the growing population's demand for housing increases, we are failing to provide affordable, convenient options. Strip malls and cookie cutter housing developments do not represent the needs or wishes of most Americans. Suburban sprawl and limited transportation choices often fail to provide affordable housing. Even middle income Americans are feeling the affordable housing crunch as new home prices escalate.
Sprawl pulls investment and the tax base away from existing communities, and forces the expensive construction of new roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure. Smart Growth provides a solution to sprawl and the affordable housing challenge. Fighting sprawl can and should include Smart Growth and affordable housing.


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Smart Growth: Developing a Better Economy, Community, & Environment for Everyone

The Mother Lode Chapter Smart Growth Checklist - Read it here

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More Parking, Less Affordable Housing
Requirements for excessive parking force builders to use land for parking rather than compact growth or affordable housing. Sprawl worsens the problem by separating jobs farther from affordable housing and transit, forcing low-income citizens to drive to work. Transit and pedestrian communities reduce the need to build parking spaces or use a car.

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There is nowhere in the U.S. that a minimum wage worker can afford a 2-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.
Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

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Gentrification: An Unnecessary Evil
Many residents of inner cities fear revitalization projects. If their community becomes a more desirable place to live because of improved services, accessible jobs, and business opportunities, won't housing prices rise? To prevent gentrification-the displacement of current residents by more affluent newcomers--community members can create a development plan that incorporates inclusionary zoning, fair-share housing, and rent controls to keep housing affordable. Replacement ordinances make sure affordable housing is not lost in the construction of better communities. Giving all citizens a voice in planning is the key to Smart Growth. Revitalization does not need to drive out low-income residents.


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Smart Growth Can Help Make Housing More Affordable

Myth: Land use policies that encourage smart growth drive up housing prices.
Fact: The demand for housing is the strongest price determiner. Smart growth programs incorporate affordable housing and inclusionary elements that lower construction costs and broaden housing choices. Well-planned developments reduce the price of housing.

Myth: People don't want to live in cities because they prefer the cheap land of the suburbs with large houses and large lots.
Fact: Low-density, single use developments promote more traffic congestion and longer commutes to jobs or shopping. Smart Growth provides the friendliness of neighborhoods and the convenience of living locally.

"Smart Growth is not the cause of high housing costs or affordable housing shortages."
-National Neighborhood Coalition

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xBuilding a Community for All People
A mixture of housing options, attractive public areas, streets friendly to walkers and bicyclists, and a mixture of available amenities provides a better community than commercial strips and parking lots.

Team for Fairness: Fight Sprawl and Protect Affordable Housing
Instead of building more big houses in inaccessible sprawling suburbs, communities should revisit the affordable housing possibilities in the urban core. Fixing up abandoned or vacant buildings can provide housing for lower income families. Revitalizing already-used land reduces the need to sprawl onto farms or wetlands and uses compact growth to stop sprawl. Urban neighborhoods were often designed for pedestrian use, so residents won't have to rely on cars to get to jobs or shopping. Redevelopment in cities uses existing resources rather than forcing taxpayers to subsidize the building of new roads or sewer lines. Smart Growth provides housing and transportation choices and limits the costs of sprawl. When citizens combat sprawl and the affordable housing shortage together, they preserve the character of their communities.

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"Affordable housing can reduce traffic and improve regional growth. Affordable housing must be a part of any smart growth agenda."
Source: SprawlWatch: "Affordable Housing."

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Spotlight on Transportation: The Location Efficient Mortgage
In communities with lots of jobs, housing, and accessible public transit, housing prices are often not affordable for low-income folks. However, reducing the need to drive can save up to $6000 per year. Some banks allow mortgage lenders to count those savings towards the income of people applying for a new mortgage. Living in a vibrant community with easy transit access just got more affordable! Innovative ideas such as the location-efficient mortgage address the goals of stopping sprawl, providing transportation choices, and protecting affordable housing. With this system, participants live locally, use public transportation, and save money on the cost of a home.
Source: Surface Transportation Policy Project, "Driven to Spend."

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Solutions for Access, Mobility, and Affordability

  • Mixed use zoning that locates housing near jobs
  • Transit-oriented development that integrates housing with convenient public transit so citizens can reduce their transportation costs
  • Public involvement in the planning process that gives low-income and minority individuals chances to participate
  • Compact growth to reduce the cost of infrastructure, create a sense of community, and encourage neighborhood walking and biking
  • Redevelopment of existing communities to preserve open space
  • Reducing public subsidies to sprawl and forcing developers to pay impact fees for infrastructure and service costs
  • Fair Share housing to promote neighborhoods, create a vibrant, diverse community, and meet the needs of a variety of income levels
  • Inclusionary zoning that provides incentives for affordable housing developments
  • Public trust funds to insure equity financing for affordable housing construction
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how to contact Challenge to Sprawl


New Roads Are Not the Answer:
Avoiding Traffic Congestion Through Transportation Choices

If You Build It, They Will Come
Traffic congestion has become an everyday reality for most Americans. Taxpayers are frustrated as more and more money is spent to expand roadways while most drivers still find themselves stuck in traffic. The average American now spends 443 hours per year behind the wheel. Why is this happening? It is called Induced Traffic. Studies show that new and expanded roads cause an increase in driving. Building new roads actually creates more congestion.

xThe Vicious Cycle of Induced Traffic
Congestion plagues a road, the road is expanded, and more people can now drive on the road. Public transit or carpool riders switch to driving, drivers switch routes and take longer trips, and congestion reappears at a greater level than before the construction. More traffic is dumped on local streets. Welcome to Induced Traffic. The short term benefits of increased road capacity result in long term suburban sprawl and reduced quality of life for residents. Roads in undeveloped areas soon attract new housing, shopping, and business centers. More people will now have to drive a longer distance in traffic to reach home, school, shopping, or work. Often, cities that spend the most on roadbuilding end up with the worst congestion.

Ridership on all major forms of public transit has increased in recent years. Subways (heavy rail) and electric trains (light rail) saw the largest rise. Americans clearly want alternatives to driving.
Source: American Public Transportation Association 2000 Ridership Report

Solution: Transportation Choices
Real solutions to traffic jams do not include building and widening highways. A balanced transportation program funds a variety of travel options that will provide people with more choices. The American economy added 30 million new commuters since 1980, and many have chosen to use public transit rather than drive.
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80% of commuters would prefer convenient public transit to driving.
Source: Surface Transportation Policy Project,Ten Years of Progress.

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Sprawl & Congestion: Long-Term Answers

  • Increase funding for clean public transportation options such as fuel-efficient buses and light rail electric trains.
  • Reduce funding for road and car-only projects.
  • Increase funding for sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Encourage Transit-Oriented Development to integrate public transit with housing and business.
  • Increase public involvement in the transportation planning process so citizens' have an equal voice in their community's future.
  • Encourage innovative incentive-based programs that encourage walking, biking, or car-pooling.
  • Authorize zoning decisions that encourage mixed-use development


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xWasting Time Stuck in Traffic
The rise of sprawling malls and decentralized housing explains the increased miles Americans have travelled in the last fifty years. Building more roads does not cut the amount of time we spend trapped in a car, and we must recognize that more sprawl and smog producing highways cannot fix the problem. Communities should consider the impact of induced traffic when planning their transportation future.



Fight Pollution, Fight Congestion, Fight Sprawl
More traffic, pollution, and congestion from new roads are not inevitable. Communities can plan a variety of transportation choices so residents aren't always forced to drive. Transportation policy can help enhance communities for the future and eliminate the need to build more roads.

For every 10% increase in lane mile capacity, a 9% increase in traffic results.
Source: Hansen and Huang, Transportation Research A, 31. 205-218. 1997.




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Induced traffic immediately consumes 10-50% of new road capacity and 50-100% in four years.
Source: John Holtzclaw, "Induced Traffic Confirmed."
view article

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Experience a More Convenient Community with Travel Choices
Combining transit and development produces a mixture of land uses and easily accessible transportation options for all citizens, including bicyclists, pedestrians, children and the elderly. To see more about how transportation enhancements can transform your community, visit:


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Smart Growth Checklist of the Mother Lode Chapter - Read it here.

For More Information about the Sierra Club's support for smart growth and affordable housing, safe and clean public transportation, or about the Challenge to Sprawl Campaign, visit

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