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New Report Puts a Price on Suburbia and Rental Housing in One U.S. City

7:33 AM PDT on April 13, 2010

much various Boston area neighborhoods are spending on total household
transport and housing bills. (Graphic: Center for Neighborhood

Boston mayor Thomas Menino joined Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) today for the release of a new Urban Land Institute (ULI) report that maps the combined housing and transportation burden of living in the metro area's various neighborhoods.

Using a method similar to the "H+T" cost index unveiled last month
with the support of Obama administration officials, the ULI report
calculated how Bostonians' area of residence affected their commuting
and housing costs. Overall, the ULI found that the average Boston
household spends 54 percent of its annual income, or $34,300, on
housing and transportation.

Not surprisingly, the center
city was found to be a hotbed of lower transport spending, thanks to
denser development and a thriving transit system -- and when housing
and transport bills were combined (see above chart), the city remained
a more affordable option than any of the suburbs in its immediate

The ULI was careful to note that lower "H+T" costs
in the center of Boston were made possible by more than just walkable
urban design. From the report (emphasis mine):

Combined costs in the City of Boston and Route 128 subregions appear to be among the lowest in the study area, but this is partly due to the unusually high share of rentersin these areas. Average housing costs for both renters and owners inthese communities are very high, but since a relatively high share ofhouseholds in the City of Boston (62 percent) and Route 128 (45percent) subregions rent their homes, and since renting is typicallyless expensive than owning, average housing costs appear to be lowerthan expected.

The trend of rental housing improving the bottom line of urbanites
would seem to invite stronger federal and local support for affordable
rental properties. But as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last year,
public housing options near transit service are at risk of being
re-priced out of the range of lower-income residents in 11 U.S. cities.

The GAO also pointed to the lack of reliable federal data as
an obstacle to the promotion of more transit-oriented affordable rental
housing. So far, local media coverage of the ULI report has focused on
its illustration of the high cost of suburban living, but lawmakers
from center-city Boston could find a potent argument for expanded
rental availability within the ULI's data sets.

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