What does "affordable" mean, exactly? | Bleader

Thursday, December 7, 2006

What does "affordable" mean, exactly?

Posted By on 12.07.06 at 12:22 PM

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The ratio of attitude to information approached infinity in Business Week's recent effort to locate affordable suburbs in 26 metropolitan areas. In the Chicago area, the magazine selected Lake Zurich as affordable, a choice that astonished the people at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, who have been developing tools to compare housing and transportation cost burdens in different locations and for different incomes. According to the CNT's November newsletter (via e-mail, not online, but there are lots of details in this PDF),

"Using CNT’s Housing & Transportation Affordability Index tool, which measures the combined housing and transportation costs based on the characteristics of the neighborhood and its location within the region in relation to jobs, amenities, and transit, Lake Zurich is not an affordable place in the Chicago region, or in the nation. This is perhaps an example of how their simple measure of transportation—being within an hour of a major city—does not fully account for a household’s total transportation costs.

"To accurately measure a household’s total transportation costs, all trips must be included. Commuting is only one of five daily trips. As the commute gets longer and the other four daily trips, e.g. for the grocery, school, medical appointments, and recreation also have to be made by auto, a household’s transportation costs rapidly increase. When lower property taxes and home prices are paired with long commutes and high total transportation costs, a place is no longer affordable."

CNT's tool won't useable by the public until spring, says economic development staffer Carrie Makarewicz.  But she can say that if you earn less than $50,000 a year in Lake Z, you're likely to pay almost 60% of your income for housing plus transportation. Is that affordable?

The outfit behind the Business Week story, Sperling's Best Places, actually has a better Web site than the story does, allowing comparison in more dimensions. But even there, they measure a place's "transportation" cost by the average cost of gas and insurance—not by how much driving you have to do if you live there.

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