Do We Need Affordable Housing or Affordable Living?

Two primary strategies will help to achieve affordable living: Reduce household transportation costs and support smaller living spaces.
May 6, 2014, 10am PDT | newurban
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Housing is too expensive in some of America's major metropolitan areas, and something must be done about it. However, it would be a tragic mistake to focus only on the cost of rent, or the sales prices of homes. As we work to bring down housing costs, we also need to make affordable options available in other aspects of people's lives which can offset high rent. There are two primary areas that we should focus on in order to promote affordable living:

1. Reduce household transportation costs

Unaffordable housing is a serious problem, but the combined cost of housing and transportation is what really matters. In regions with affordability problems, housing and transportation costs tend to be inversely related. As housing gets cheaper toward the metropolitan fringe, transportation costs increase, often erasing the benefit of the lower-cost housing. For example, someone living in New York's Greenwich Village will undoubtably pay exorbitant rent, but due to the neighborhood's high walkability, abundance of amenities, and excellent transit access, their transportation costs can be nearly zero. If the same person moves out to suburban New Jersey they can get a cheaper house, but their transportation costs will skyrocket.

2. Support smaller living spaces

The average American home has been getting bigger (and bigger, and bigger) for a long time. In the 1950s the average home was only 980 square feet, but by the 2000s it was 2,300 square feet, despite the fact that the average household has fewer people now. There are a lot of perks to living in a large house, but there are also some downsides. Big homes take up more space, cost more to build, cost more to heat and cool, and cost more to furnish and equip. Inordinately large home can create serious financial strain for some households, especially in areas where rent and mortgage costs are exceptionally high.

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Published on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in Better! Cities & Towns
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