When determining location affordability, housing is not the only cost at play;
The cost of transportation is a very significant component of household costs that many tenants and home-buyers only learn after moving to a community. Transportation is typically a household’s second largest expenditure. Generally, the costs of transportation to work, to buy groceries or to medical facilities is higher in rural areas where less expensive housing is found. Households will unknowingly trade cheaper housing costs located away from economic centers and dense areas for increased transportation costs and number of automobiles owned. A revealing cause of unknown transportation costs is the difficulty in tracking and reporting these costs when considering housing location.
Households can be blindsided by “car costs”. As they move out for less expensive housing, savings are offset due to increased transportation costs. This technical summary is a snapshot of a housing and transportation affordability model developed by the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission for the Central Vermont Region. Our hopes are that this information will begin the conversation on the idea that location matters.
What is Affordability?
“Affordable housing” is defined in Vermont as:
Housing that is owned or rented by its inhabitants whose gross annual household income does not exceed 80 percent of the county median income, or 80 percent of the standard metropolitan statistical area income if the municipality is located in such an area, as defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the total annual cost of the housing, including principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and condominium association fees is not more than 30 percent of the household’s gross annual income. (24 V.S.A. § 4303)
The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) researched the impacts of transportation on household spending and found that transportation costs become unaffordable when they are more than 15% of a household’s income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also uses 15% of household income on transportation as the limit of affordability in its Location Affordability Index. When the costs of housing and transportation are added together, a home is affordable when a household spends no more than 45% of its income on housing and transportation costs.
CVRPC modeled costs for a household making 80% of County Median Income in each of its 23 towns to ensure modeling accounted for low-income families in the region. The results have been included in the 2016 Housing Element update. The final draft can be viewed here. The basic methodology can be seen below.
Other Tools and Resources:
The discussion and research into affordability of location and ‘livability’ is surfacing in many conversations around the county. Below are a few tools that examine housing, transportation and livability that seek to call out the need for a more comprehensive approach to the discussion and policy surrounding affordability.
Center for Neighborhood Technology H + T Index
The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) was the first to publish research and a tool on the combined costs of housing and transportation. By taking into account the combined costs of housing and transportation associated with the location of the home, the H+T Index provides a more complete understanding of affordability. This tool allows the user to quickly create helpful fact sheets with maps and data for their community.
The AllTransit tool was produced through a partnership with CNT and AllTransit and is a compilation of transit data; stops and agencies and routes, nationwide. It is said to be the largest complete set of public transit data currently available. It does not offer raw data downloads, but it does offer a couple of really interesting ways to explore the data in relation to community and job accessibility.
By locations as specific as block groups, AllTransit breaks down transit accessibility via buses and trains into six different metrics. Using US Census data, AllTransit computes a number of different metrics that explore transit/job accessibility. For example, the tool finds how many jobs are accessible via transit within 30 mins for the average household, how many jobs are located within a half-mile of transit, and how many workers are accessible, on average, to employers. It also computes an overall score based on economy, transit quality, mobility, health and equity.
HUD Location Affordability Index
This tool examines affordability as Housing + Transportation costs. The user can also change household makeup, number of commuters, travel distance and other factors to really customize the H+T output.
AARP Livability Index
This tool developed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) examines seven factors of affordability; housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement and opportunity. The user can change the weight on each factor to more closely examine livability in their community.
This tool was developed by the residential real estate company, Redfin. Walkscore applies a score to a neighborhood or address that demonstrates the ability to do errands without a car as well as a map showing travel times to different locations by foot, car or bus. Walkscore also has a feature that allows for searching of nearby rentals or homes for sale.