Some housing not so cheap when you factor in transportation costs

Plenty of people may move to where the cheaper housing is located but this could come with higher transportation costs:

In Chicago’s transit-rich Ravenswood neighborhood, where there is an average of one automobile per household and 42 percent of commuters use transit, monthly transportation costs averaged $751 in the five-year period studied, the center determined.

Households in Marengo in McHenry County incur an average of $1,324 in transportation costs each month, the study found. Each household in Marengo, where transit ridership is less than 1 percent, also logs an average of 24,438 miles per year in their cars, versus 12,150 miles annually in Ravenswood.

When people are looking for a place to live, taking into account housing and transportation costs changes the affordability outlook significantly, said Scott Bernstein, the center’s president…

[From the print edition:] Some 69 percent of neighborhoods in the Chicago area are considered affordable under the traditional definition of housing affordability: rent or mortgage payments consuming no more than 30 percent of household income, the study said. But only 42 percent of the neighborhoods are considered affordable when housing and transportation costs are measured, it said…

The study also found that it is more difficult for a typical household in the U.S. to find an affordable place to live compared to a decade ago because incomes increased about half as much as transportation and housing costs since 2000.

This provides some data to back up Joel’s claim from earlier this week: life is cheaper (and perhaps better?) without a car.

What I find fascinating about this is that this report ties transportation costs to the idea of affordable housing. Typically, we only think about the cost of the housing itself but if you built affordable housing in the middle of a corn field 90 miles west of Chicago, those housing units won’t really help anyone.

At the same time, this is a trade-off many Americans seem willing to make: you pay less for your house and then pay more for transportation costs over time. Perhaps because the house is a significantly larger “one-time purchase” (you have repeated payments but they are somewhat fixed and you have already psychologically taken possession of the house even though you don’t own it) people can justify then paying more for transportation over time because the money trickles out and the costs are more variable. Plus, if you think of the home as one of the key pieces of the American Dream and Americans should love to drive anyway, this all could make some sense.

This is also a reminder that the cost for entry to the suburbs is not just about finding somewhere to live which often requires a sizable down payment and a mortgage. In order to get anywhere, whether it is a job or store or recreation area or church, one needs a car in the suburbs and one needs to have extra money on hand to deal with this. Without being able to pay for insurance, gas, maintenance, and somewhere to park (which is factored into a parking space or the driveway/garage that is factored into the mortgage), there is plenty of extra cost involved with having a car. This reminds me of a story I read recently about an affordable car program in Wisconsin where the state or some agency was providing cheap but reliable cars to people to help cover these growing and important transportation costs.

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