This past week, I attended part of the sustainable living conference at the Tempe Transit Center where some true transit geeks talked policy, lifestyle, and awareness of a more green world. One of the more interesting topics to me was the study on housing and transportation costs here in Arizona and across the country. There was a lot of discussion on the amount of energy consumed and money spent on transportation by individuals living in outlying areas. I remember well the times when people would “drive until they qualify” for a mortgage. In essence, many people were told that driving further from town, they could lower their housing expenses. That’s all well and good until you factor in all of the costs of the fuel, maintenance, time, and lifestyle.
When people qualify under this idea, they tend to forget the overall cost of living 50 miles from the city. As fuel prices rise, their cost of living tends to rise, as well. I recall one of the speakers saying that many people end up spending more than half of their income on housing and transportation costs because they failed to figure in the additional costs of travel and vehicle expenses. One study of annual household gasoline expenses showed that people living closer to the city had less than a third of the gasoline expenses as those living in outlying areas.
As we sat in the Tempe Transportation Center with light rail cars driving by the windows, it was an interesting topic, indeed. Their “Housing + Transportation Affordability Index” comes from a study done in over 330 metro areas, and it found, among other things, that 69% of the communities were considered affordable when using the standard measure of 30% of income towards housing payments. When factoring in the Housing +Transportation Affordability Index, they said the number was drastically reduced.
“Seven in ten communities (69%) in the 337 metro areas are
considered affordable under the traditional definition of housing
costs at 30% of income. This shrinks dramatically to four in ten
(39%) when housing and transportation costs are combined using
the H+T measure of 45% of income. This produces a net loss of
48,000 communities where a typical family can afford the average
cost of housing and transportation.”
Much discussion centered around the number of cars needed by households living near transportation lines as well. People living and working near transportation are able to “give up” a car, reducing expenses and contributing less greenhouse gasses. Another point made in the presentation was that, in addition to transportation, a good thing to consider is the characteristics of the neighborhood. While Arizona may have a long ways to go in comparison to some cities, we are beginning to see demand for a convenient lifestyle and for homes near the light rail in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. There was also discussion of “green mortgage” programs to help people live closer to transportation. Once we can get any of our mortgage buddies off of their butts, I’m sure we will have more information on that here in the near future.
In choosing where you live, do you factor in transportation costs? Does it make $ense?
** Update 5/7/2010** Great article in the paper today by Sean Holstege titled, “Can you afford to live in your house?” Take a look!