New Website Shows Impact Of Transportation On Housing Costs

A new interactive mapping website launched by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in partnership with The Brookings Institution shows how affordability changes from neighborhood to neighborhood based on housing and transportation.

"When you're stuck in Beltway traffic burning $3-a-gallon gasoline to creep along at walking speed, it offers time to think. Would it be easier if I left home earlier? Would I be better off riding a train? How bad will my commute be in five years? Would life be easier and cheaper if I found a job in Pittsburgh or Nashville or some other place where the roads aren't as crowded and the homes aren't so expensive?

A new Web-based tool developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based urban development think tank, can help put facts behind those daydreams. The CNT developed a Web site, at, that takes into account household expenditures for transportation, along with home prices, to estimate whether a home is truly affordable for households with moderate incomes.

Academics at the CNT argue that a home isn't really affordable if its location forces a household to devote an excessive amount of the family budget to transportation. How much is excessive? They say 18 percent of the area's median pretax income is typical; lowering that to 15 percent would be better. That's on top of the 30 percent of pretax income that they estimate as an affordable budget for a home's mortgage principal and interest plus property taxes and homeowners' insurance, which lenders call PITI.

With gasoline prices nearing $3.50 per gallon and Metro fares that recently increased by the largest amount in the transit system's history, keeping Washington-area transportation costs below those thresholds is only going to become more difficult.

The Web site is a data fest even by wonk standards. It's a map-based tool offering information on housing and transportation costs for 52 metropolitan areas, including the Washington-Baltimore area. You can zoom in on individual neighborhoods and pull up U.S. Census information on the percentage of neighborhood residents who use mass transit, their average monthly spending on transportation, the number of wage-earners and cars per household, and other data. The Web site also displays nearby subway and commuter rail lines and stations."

Thanks to Nicole Gotthelf

Full Story: Mapping Transportation Costs for Home Buyers



With results like these who needs sound methodology

You have to question the methodology here when living in almost any city without a car is cheaper than living beyond the city limits with a car.

It's more affordable to live in Manhattan than just outside Fort Wayne, Indiana?

I checked on median housing costs in NYC and Fort Wayne on The median home costs $658,000 in NYC and $97,000 in Fort Wayne.

Apparently, folks in Fort Wayne spend more than $561,000 buying and maintaining their cars but since subway tokens are comparatively inexpensive in the Big Apple, NYC is a showcase of affordability.

As far the website goes, housing costs + transportation costs= a willing suspension of disbelief.

Michael Lewyn's picture

misses the point

I've been on the CNT website, and if you actually look at the maps, CNT's study does in fact show that Fort Wayne is cheaper than Manhattan. The point of the study is not to show otherwise, but to show that within the same region, core areas are cheaper than suburbs once transportation is taken into account - which is true in both NYC and Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne's core really is cheaper than its suburbs ... even though both are cheaper than either Manhattan OR its suburbs!

Fixed local costs vs. mobility

I was looking at the basic maps not the advanced maps. I concur that the study shows the outlying areas aren't a bargain once transportation costs are factored in but the study downplays a highly mobile population that moves, on average, every five years. That largely negates the message of saving money by living closer to the core of the city or at least within walking distance of transit lines. If people had the option and wanted to save money, they would depart for areas with a lower costs of living. I would submit that is what has happened with the bulk of migration to the southern and western parts of the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Mobility And Jobs

People's choices of where to live tend to be constrained by availability of jobs. There are a lot more jobs in NY city than in Fort Wayne, IN, which is why NY's population is much higher and housing costs much more in New York.

Even apart from jobs, I don't think the argument about moving to lower cost areas is valid. If the the total cost of housing and housing and transportation is lower in in the core than in outlying areas, then people who want to save money should move to the core of whatever city they want to live in - and that applies whether they are moving to the core of New York, the core of Fort Wayne, or the cores of cities in the southern and western US.

Charles Siegel

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