Transportation expenses exceed housing costs for low- to moderate-income working families in some major metro areas, according to a report by an affordable-housing research group.
The report by the Center for Housing Policy, a research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, an affordable-housing advocacy group, states that working families with annual incomes ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 pay more for transportation than they do for housing in 17 of 28 metro areas studied.
And across all 28 metro areas, working families spend an average of 28 percent, or $9,700, of their incomes for housing and about 30 percent, or $10,400, for transportation. Transportation costs are based on auto ownership, auto use and public transit use, and take into account the cost of commuting, as well as traveling for school, errands and other daily routines, according to the study, “A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families.”
While the share of income that working families devote to housing and transportation differed from metro area to metro area, the combined burden of both types of expenses was similar in all areas studied, the report states. “These combined costs ranged from a low of 54 percent in Pittsburgh to a high of 63 percent in San Francisco, with 25 of the 28 metro areas within three percentage points of the average combined burden of 57 percent.”
The 28 metropolitan areas studied are the same areas covered by the federal government’s most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey from 2003-2004 and include: Anchorage, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C.
“Working families are increasingly moving further from their jobs to find affordable housing. Yet, we found that many of these families end up spending more on transportation costs than they save on housing,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy. “Ultimately, these findings emphasize the importance of coordinating the development of housing and transportation policy, as well as expanding the supply of affordable housing close to both central city and suburban job centers, improving public transit in areas with lower housing costs and reducing the costs of commuting by car for working families.”
Among all American households and income levels, and not just working families, housing and transportation are also the two largest expenses, but consume a smaller share of income at a total of 48 percent, according to the study.
About 85 percent of low- to moderate-income working family commuters in the 28 metro areas studied drive to work in private vehicles. Commuters in some metro areas take advantage of public transit alternatives such as rail systems and buses. Public transit serves the greatest share of working families in the New York metro area at 31 percent, followed by Chicago at 14 percent and Washington, D.C., at 13 percent, according to the study.
The metro areas of Boston, Honolulu, Philadelphia and San Francisco all have an average of 12 percent of commuters taking public transit.
The study concludes that regions should coordinate housing and transportation policies to ensure that those policies reflect the needs of working families. Also, the study recommends the redevelopment of inner city and older suburban neighborhoods near job centers, and the promotion of job development in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in central cities and inner-ring suburbs.
Policies that encourage car-sharing and that make car ownership more accessible and affordable “could also help reduce the transportation cost burdens of working families who must commute by car,” according to the report.