Saturday, March 06, 2010

The cost to live in exurbia

RALEIGH – 9:15 a.m. -- I’m blogging today from the N.C. State Urban Design Forum. Topic du jour: “Creating Value: Designing for Resilient Cities.”

Excellent quote, to start the day, from NCSU College of Design Dean Marvin Malecha: The design of a community begins with the measure of the first human step.

9:30 a.m. Now Shelley Poticha of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. She's been active in New Urban and transportation and other community design initiatives for years. (She's speaking via Skype.) She has offered some fascinating tidbits.

Costs in Raleigh-Durham to living on the exurban edge: She ran some numbers on the combined household costs of housing and transportation in this area. For people living in the core city, she said, combined household/transportation costs are about 34-38 percent of income. But here's the amazing fact. For people living on the farthest edges of Wake County, combined housing/transportation costs can be as high as 75 percent of household income.

Federal revolution, under the radar?: 9:45 a.m. – Poticha is describing what has been an amazing, under-the-radar transformation at the federal level, where Shaun Donovan at HUD, with help from Ron Sims (former county exec for King County, Wash., i.e. Seattle) and the EPA and US DOT are – get this – trying to work together to remove federal barriers that keep cities and states from smarter urban growth/planning, or what she described as formerly being "a backwater set of issues."

They're trying to change some of the dumb stuff that doesn't require legislation. An example she cited: Used to be that HUD protocols made it impossible to use federal housing money for developing on a brownfield (former industrial) site. They changed that. Now, if you can get the EPA certificate that your site is OK, then you can get HUD money.
Another example: Used to be if your apartment building qualified for Dept. of Energy weatherization money, then you had to fill out a whole other bunch of forms for HUD. Now, no extra HUD forms needed.


Tandemfusion said...

Those numbers are glaringly suspect. Since the combined local, state and federal tax bite is higher than 25% of household income on average, 75% of household income spent on housing and transportation isn't really likely.

More to the point, since the decision to live in a given area is one arrived at freely as people seek their own interests as they see them, and since money is nothing more than an exchange medium for labor, those costs are merely an expression of how people prioritize the expenditure of their labor on their own behalf. Such priorities are, of course, fundamentally a private matter subject only to one's own needs and wants. It is completely reasonable to assume that spending at that or any level indicates the value people place on the object of that expenditure.

In other words, in the unlikely event that non-city residents do spend 75% of their income in order to live outside the city, and about twice the proportion of their income as city residents are do for the location they choose, it would serve as an indication that they place great value on living there and a greater value on their locaiton than do those residents of the city.

consultant said...

Obama has made some good cabinet appointments-State, HUD, DOT & EPA among them. The disasters-Treasury and DOJ.

Changing the rules to encourage smart growth/building is some of the change we can believe in.

The high costs of living way out and being dependent on cars is well documented. But the same forces that have made our health care costs rise through the roof are the same forces that seek every opportunity to discourage mass transit and density. Where we get density, the costs are driven way up (i.e. developers), displacing the middle and working classes to the edges of our cities.

This is a relatively recent event in our urban history and it doesn't bode well for our future (in most European cities, the rich live in the center, while most everyone else lives much further out).

America works best with varied neighborhoods. Ones with a variety of households. With reasonable space and access to services and transportation, these are the places that endure and people over time place value on.

consultant said...


You confuse economic man with a computer program. We humans are a varied lot. Some rational, but most swayed by illogic and emotions.

After WW II, the access to large amounts of capital allowed developers to create mass developments. This is how developers came to have immense power over how our communities grew.

Unlike the fine grain development that took place over the previous 200 years, the post WW II housing patterns were massive and mono-housing here, business there, industry over there. It was built, in part, largely for the car.

What people in the development community have known for a while is this widely dispersed living arrangement cost a lot of money to keep going.

The collapsed economy and the high price of gas is bringing that point home to every household.

Theo Tiefwald said...

Many of the people who live in exurbs of NC cities (Raleigh, Charlotte, etc) are recent transplants from the North or the West. Why do you think the population of those cities have doubled or whatever in the last 20 years or so? It was because of the invasion of 'neo-carpetbaggers' -- few Southerners live in them.

If you go in to many of these newly built exurban neighborhoods, the vast majority of the people living in them are not native North Carolinians or Southerners.

Most Southerners I know HATE these type of neighborhoods because they are so ugly and they were poorly/haphazardly built.

Jumper said...

I know of one Charlotte brownfield I would ban for residential use. Hope the EPA would look hard at it before okaying it.

Tandemfusion said...

I confuse nothing, consultant. I simple take note that paying a higher price for one product over another similar product is indicative of a choice made by a comsumer. It does not follow that the consumer is not capable of rationally making such choices, and certain not that he is in need of a self-identified elite to make those choices on his behalf. Paying a higher price is almost always an expression of value. That you may not share that value hardly makes it less valid that the choice you might make.

In judging that most people make choices on the basis of flawed logic and emotion (and apparently holding yourself above that at least in this matter) you are illustrating the canard that another's intelligence can be measured by the degree to which they agree with one.

Karl said...

Translated: Either you agree with consultant, or you are an idiot.