Last week, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) unveiled its updated Housing + Transportation Affordability (HTA) Index. The Index now includes 877 metro- and micropolitan areas, which are home to 89 percent of the U.S. population. In addition, the Index now takes into account rail transit stations, bus stops, and transit service frequency.
HTA provides a comprehensive measure of affordability by quantifying the combined costs of housing and transportation in communities across the United States. Transportation represents the second largest household expenditure after housing itself, but home buyers often don’t consider the difference in transportation costs associated with different locations and will “drive ‘til they qualify” in order to find affordable housing.
The HTA Index shows that many outlying areas may appear affordable (average monthly housing costs consuming less than 30 percent of average regional income) when evaluated based solely by housing costs, but are no longer affordable when transportation is included in calculations (total monthly housing and transportation costs exceed 45 percent of average income). On the other hand many urban locations, which may appear less affordable when judged solely on the cost of housing, appear much more affordable when transportation costs are taken into account.
US Census data indicates that between 2000 and 2009 housing costs increased by roughly 37 percent nationwide, while incomes rose by 22 percent. During this same period average transportation costs in areas covered by the HTA Index increased by more than 39 percent. According to HTA Index data, families in neighborhoods where transportation costs made up less than 15 percent of average income experienced a much smaller increase in their transportation costs ($120 per household/month) than families living in neighborhoods where transportation costs consumed a larger share of their income ($350 per household/month). With gas prices again on the rise, the disparity in transportation costs could further increase.
The updated HTA Index provides a wealth of economic, demographic, geographic, and environmental data to support improvements in equity and economic well-being through better transportation options and reductions in transportation-inefficient development.