Thursday, April 24, 2008

Color by Numbers: Site Maps Affordability of Areas by Transportation + Housing Costs

By Karl Vilacoba

A new interactive website constructed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) estimates the cost of living in 52 metro areas by considering housing and transportation costs. Neighborhood by neighborhood, these areas are mapped out and color coded according to their affordability.

Visitors can view the areas with one of three maps:

  • Housing: Neighborhoods where housing costs more than 30 percent of median household income are blue, yellow where it’s less

  • Housing + Transportation: Areas where the combined cost of housing and transportation are estimated as more than 48 percent of household income are blue, yellow where it’s less

  • A Goal for Affordability: Areas where housing and transportation costs are more than 45 percent are blue, yellow where it’s less

Census data was used to determine housing costs. Variables like residential density, transit availability and location of jobs and amenities were used to predict car ownership, car usage, transit usage and ultimately total transportation costs. The site can be used as a tool for home seekers, urban planners, policy-makers and transportation and housing advocates looking for information on housing costs, according to CNT.

The website is part of the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index research project being completed by CNT in partnership with the Brookings Institution and the Center for Transit Oriented Development. InTransition carried a piece in 2007 about the development of the index and map.

The overall conclusion of the research, according to the CNT and its research partners on the project, is that living in the burbs is not the great deal it’s cracked up to be.

“The real estate pages may list 2- and 3-bedroom homes for under $175,000 in suburban communities. That sounds affordable, right? But once you factor in transportation costs, the bargain goes away,” CNT President Scott Bernstein said. “Transportation costs can be as much or more than housing costs. The index protects consumers by divulging those costs and helps planners and decision-makers work toward providing truly affordable housing.”

Naturally, when I checked the site out for myself, the first place I looked was my home area. With the easy rail, bus and major highway access we have, my neighborhood was safely in the yellow for each map.

It was interesting switching from map to map and seeing which areas changed colors once you factored in transportation. I imagine we’d be seeing plenty more blue neighborhoods if/when gas hits that feared $4 mark this summer.