Housing and Transportation


The Center for Neighborhood Technology got a lot of press today out of its new briefing on considering transportation costs as part of housing affordability. In other words, if you assume you’re going to be commuting by car, the further you live from a job the more expensive your commute is going to be. At the same time, houses that are further from job centers tend to be cheaper than jobs that are closer-in. So ideally, you’d look at the two factors together.

But as this writeup from Pittsburgh emphasizes people often forget to do this, engaging in “drive ’till you qualify” behavior in search of affordable housing that doesn’t actually save them money. This is parallel to a result I’ve seen many times in the happiness literature to the effect that people underestimate the extent to which long commutes will bother them. The variance can be quite large:

A home in Loudoun County eats up an average 28.72 percent of household income with transportation raising that to 55.87 percent. Montgomery County housing came in at 26.57 percent but rises to 45.91 percent with transportation costs added in. A home in Fairfax County soaks up 30.63 percent of household income but 49 percent with transportation costs tacked on.

Fairfax looks cheaper than Loudon, in other words, but is actually more expensive. There’s lots of stuff in Fairfax, and it’s relatively close to the DC/Arlington/Alexandria core jurisdictions of the metro area. Elena Shor reports that the federal government is taking steps to start broadening its take on what constitutes “affordable” housing by including these transportation considerations.