It’s conventional wisdom that families move to the suburbs to get cheaper housing.
But a new study looks at the combined weight of both housing and transportation for low- to moderate-income families in 28 metropolitan areas and finds that combined costs of the two expenses are surprisingly constant. In other words, your housing costs may go down, but your transportation costs go up. Or vice versa.
Here’s a link that will get you to the report, "A Heavy Load," as well as some fact sheets.
The report, released Oct. 11, is from the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that studies housing policy, specifically affordable housing. Among the sponsors of this report: The Bank of America Foundation, and the National Association of Realtors.
In a nutshell, the study found that working families in the cities studied spend about 57 percent of their incomes on housing and transportation, with roughly 28 percent for housing and 29 percent for transportation. The share of income devoted to one or the other varies, but the combined costs tend to stay about the same – 55 to 60 percent.
Why does this matter? A lot of folks, including policymakers, have the rather simplistic view that an affordable house in the suburbs is the single best solution to help family income. This study shows the picture is a lot more complex.
And it also shows that if you’re planning to buy (or even rent) a new place, prudent financial planning means you should look at the big picture, not just housing costs alone.
From the report:
The study also points to the importance of infill development that expands the supply of affordable housing in inner city and older suburban neighborhoods that have good access to traditional job centers; the development of more affordable housing near transportation hubs and suburban employment centers; providing good quality and reliable transit for suburb to suburb commuting, as well as for helping families in the outer suburbs get into the central city; and policies to encourage car sharing and to reduce the costs of car ownership for families who cannot easily get to work via public transit.