The True Cost of Moving to Cheaper Suburban Housing

Today Streetsblog Network member The City Fix
reports on the "cost of place" in the Washington, DC, area — the way
that the price of housing and transportation stacks up for people in
the urban core and the suburbs. According to a report recently released
by the Urban Land Institute,

3184559931_ee0a0d13e1.jpgPhoto by ehpien via Flickr.

Living
in the D.C. area is expensive. So, in order to find affordable homes,
many median-income families move out to more remote suburbs. But these
areas are often under-served by mass transit and far-removed from work
centers. Therefore, “efforts to save on housing expenses often lead to
higher transportation costs, with the result that an even larger
portion of household budgets are consumed by the combined burden of
housing and transportation costs.”

Proposed policy solutions to the conundrum
include creating more housing and transportation choices; focusing on
compact development; getting employers to play their part (by offering
telecommuting options, for instance); and maintaining and improving the
public transit systems in the region.

If you live in the DC area or plan to move there, the ULI has a nifty cost calculator that will let you figure out the combined costs of your own housing and transportation.

Other interesting posts from around the network: over the next couple of months, Transportation for America is setting up some great "webinars" where you can get your questions about transportation policy answered; The Transport Politic looks at how best to serve the bike/transit commuter; and How We Drive features a PSA from Australia that suggests men who speed in their cars might be… overcompensating, shall we say?

  • This sort of analysis (i.e. “The personal cost of suburbia”) makes sense when you’re lobbying to build larger buildings in the inner city.

    When it comes to structural change, I feel that it would be better to show the personal cost of other people living in suburbia. That is, if you don’t own a suburban home, or a car, you can’t write off those expenses on your taxes. If you walk or take the bus, your taxes go to pay for other peoples’ use of a transportation network you are prohibited from using (i.e. the highways). The dollars you spend shopping help subsidize the extra parking spots at every store you visit because zoning codes mandate developers add lots of car parking (vs. less car parking and better design for those walking or using other modes).

    The economics of this issue are barely touched upon by solely looking at the transportation costs associated with the suburban living condition.

  • Of course we have the same issue here. During the housing boom loads of people in South L.A. cashed in and moved out to Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale and other cities I label as “places people were never intended to actually live.” :-)

    “This sort of analysis (i.e. “The personal cost of suburbia”) makes sense when you’re lobbying to build larger buildings in the inner city.”

    Umberto, not just the buildings, but also the infrastructure – you can’t have one without the other. Our infrastructure is crumbling and needs a lot more dollars and a long-term vision and plan for implementation.

    My personal view, after 3 years looking into it is let the suburbs be the suburbs. But at least force them to focus on transportation grids that make it easier to reach commuter rail stations, and find some type of way to limit the growth beyond a certain distance of these commuter stations (like 3-4 miles).

    But that in itself is only half of the problem. Where people live is one issue, but where they work is another.

    We have many economic centers in Los Angeles (Warner Center to Torrance to Downtown Pasadena to Century City, etc.), yet we still have too much commercial land that is “off the grid.” We’ve got to find a way of getting our closest suburbs like Glendale, El Segundo, Glendale) to take similar action and focus commercial development within 1/4 – 1/2 mile of potential transit stations.

    Ideally, they’d rezone everything outside the radius to medium density residential or mixed-use with ground floor retail.

    There might even be the political will within the electorate for such a thing.

    And again, all of this would be much easier if we focused on building a rapid transit system connecting our polycentric reason as quickly as humanly possible. (And to be rapid it has to be moving “FAST”).

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