If you’re not spending a bundle on housing costs but still feel pinched, you probably don’t live close to your job.
The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology says many places that appear affordable really aren’t once you factor in transportation costs.
Three out of four communities in the country have typical rent and home prices that don’t require more than 30 percent of a typical household’s income, a common affordability measure. But nearly as many do eat up more than 45 percent of household income if you add in the expense of getting around, the center says.
"Most places are unaffordable when it comes to combined housing and transportation costs," it concludes.
The situation has worsened in recent years because income isn’t keeping pace with expenses, the center added. Since 2000, median U.S. income has increased 22 percent, compared with a nearly 37 percent increase in housing costs, according to Census Bureau figures. Transportation costs – which the center estimated on average – rose about 40 percent, “or $318 per month.”
But that varies quite a bit:
“The typical family living in a location efficient neighborhood in 2000 (where transportation costs were less than 15 percent of the national median income), saw average transportation costs increase by approximately $1,400 annually,” the center says in its press release. “Meanwhile, families living in inefficient neighborhoods (where 2000 transportation costs were greater than 15 percent of the national median income), had average transportation costs increase by more than twice as much, or slightly over $3,900 annually.”
The Baltimore region is on the cheaper side for transportation costs in big metro areas, according to the center. It ranked our area 12th lowest out of 51, with an average annual expense just above $13,000. (New York is first at about $10,000, while Birmingham is last at nearly $15,000.)
Even so, the center slaps an “unaffordable” label on much of our region – the city and surrounding counties. With an income of $65,000, you'll find large pieces of the metro area are unaffordable to you even if you just count housing costs, the center says. Add in commuting costs, and even more communities flip from yellow on the center’s map – affordable – to unaffordable blue.
The center considers most of the city affordable by both measures.
This is a your-mileage-may-vary situation, literally. Whether a community requires you personally to shoulder a pricey transportation bill has everything to do with where it is compared with your job (and wherever else you go on a regular basis), plus your options for getting there.
If you live in downtown Baltimore and commute to Northern Virginia, the fact that all sorts of jobs are within walking distance of your home has zero effect on your budget. (On the other hand, you might eventually get one of those jobs, so it could influence your future budget.)
For its cost index, the center used the median income, average household size and average commuters per household for each region. It came up with transportation costs using a model that considered residential density, job density and transit availability, among other factors.
Here's more on how the center came up with its figures.
Any idea how much you spend on transportation? Is it a reasonable piece of your budget?