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True Cost of Housing (and Transportation)

True Cost of Housing (and Transportation)

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has produced a website where users can calculate the true cost of housing and transportation for their metro-area. The results tend to challenge the presumption of the availability of affordable housing on the exurban fringes of our major cities. When the necessary costs of transportation are added to the “affordable” housing, we see that the housing savings are soon lost.

The transportation costs estimated in this model are more than the costs of commuting to and from work. They also include all other travel that is part of the household daily routine. The methods for the cost model are drawn from peer reviewed research findings on the factors that drive household transportation costs.

Because where you live affects your transportation options and expenditures, housing and transportation costs have to be considered together. According to a report created for the project (PDF), the portion of household income devoted to transportation grew from less that two percent in 1917 to the second largest household cost in the 1970s. This change reflects the rise of the automobile (as well as the decline of food prices).

The build environment evolved to reflect increased mobility afforded by the automobile – and by “mobility” we are describing individuals, usually alone, crossing great distances at a high rate of speed. This “freedom” influenced the shape of the built environment where residential and commercial development became concentrated in isolated nodes along a high capacity transportation network. Now, we not only drive to work, we drive to the store, we drive from one store to another store, we drive to the doctor’s office and we drive to the gym. Each trip generates a cost and the further each location of activity is from the next, the greater the cost of transportation.

While some, such as libertarian transit writer Randal O’Toole, believe we can invent our way to greater resource efficiency and less congestion, this approach ignores the fundamental problem of collective consumption. A high efficiency personal automobile reduces the per-mile impact of the individual, but does nothing to address the material and energy put into creating an ever expanding system of roads linking up our low-density patterns of development. The resources necessary to maintain a sprawling infrastructure are not only fiscally unsustainable, they are unnecessary and institute a paradigm that requires increased public expenditure and private consumption.

If we are going to consume less, we need to live in an environment that makes that goal possible. Where we live is directly connected to how we consume. And if we can’t convince ourselves that we need to make sustainable choices for our succeeding generations, at least we can listen to our pocketbook and adopt the fiscally sustainable lifestyle that recognizes that the costs of how we move are directly linked to the place we choose to live.



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