New Report Puts a Price on Suburbia and Rental Housing in One U.S. City

mappy.pngHow much various Boston area neighborhoods are spending on total household transport and housing bills. (Graphic: Center for Neighborhood Technology)

Boston mayor Thomas Menino joined Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) today for the release of a new Urban Land Institute (ULI) report that maps the combined housing and transportation burden of living in the metro area’s various neighborhoods.

Using a method similar to the "H+T" cost index unveiled last month with the support of Obama administration officials, the ULI report calculated how Bostonians’ area of residence affected their commuting and housing costs. Overall, the ULI found that the average Boston household spends 54 percent of its annual income, or $34,300, on housing and transportation.

Not surprisingly, the center city was found to be a hotbed of lower transport spending, thanks to denser development and a thriving transit system — and when housing and transport bills were combined (see above chart), the city remained a more affordable option than any of the suburbs in its immediate vicinity.

The ULI was careful to note that lower "H+T" costs in the center of Boston were made possible by more than just walkable urban design. From the report (emphasis mine):

Combined costs in the City of Boston and Route 128 subregions appear to be among the lowest in the study area, but this is partly due to the unusually high share of renters in these areas. Average housing costs for both renters and owners in these communities are very high, but since a relatively high share of households in the City of Boston (62 percent) and Route 128 (45 percent) subregions rent their homes, and since renting is typically less expensive than owning, average housing costs appear to be lower than expected.

The trend of rental housing improving the bottom line of urbanites would seem to invite stronger federal and local support for affordable rental properties. But as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last year, public housing options near transit service are at risk of being re-priced out of the range of lower-income residents in 11 U.S. cities.

The GAO also pointed to the lack of reliable federal data as an obstacle to the promotion of more transit-oriented affordable rental housing. So far, local media coverage of the ULI report has focused on its illustration of the high cost of suburban living, but lawmakers from center-city Boston could find a potent argument for expanded rental availability within the ULI’s data sets.

5 thoughts on New Report Puts a Price on Suburbia and Rental Housing in One U.S. City

  1. All you’re counting is the out of pocket cost, but the picture changes a lot when you consider that with a mortgage you’re paying yourself. So this whole model is sorta stupid. I’m all for the H + T idea but let’s not leave out one of the most important factors. The millions of Americans who have chosen to buy in the suburbs and pay off an asset, instead of throwing money out the window in rent, aren’t completely stupid.

  2. I see that the region I grew up in in Southern NH is very strapped – not surprising, as it was a very frustrating exurban place to be as a teenager before I got a Drivers License…no center, no density, no sidewalks – but nothing to walk to anyway – nothing but miles of (mandated 2-acres per house) far-flung housing tracts. My father would spend 75 minutes each way fighting traffic to get to Lexington MA – a 35 mile trek which was nearly always completely clogged with traffic.

    Who says that you can’t buy a condo in the center and pay off that asset instead of retreating to an outer suburb to buy a house?

  3. Palmetto Bug, you forgot to mention that most of the money you are “paying yourself” is actually paying the bank. You pay a lot more in interest payments over the course of a mortgage then on the principle, so you are actually just paying rent to a bank along with a little amount of principle. What if you were to buy in the city? Wouldn’t that be the smartest way to go? So although I will give you that people that buy are not “completely stupid” which I don’t think this article is saying at all, maybe the people that bought houses in the exurbs are in fact, “completely stupid.”

  4. 1) The Federal mortgage subsidy basically means that the super-majority
    of American “homeowners” live in subsidized housing.

    2) Whether you rent or buy a home in Boston it’s still cheaper than renting or buying a home way out in the burbs and paying the costs of transport. So technically, yes I would say people throwing away their money to buy an “asset” while also spending a fortune on transport to live in that “asset” are indeed stupid, or at least less enlightened than they claim. They’re also the biggest culprits to the wars we’re in, the outrageous healthcare costs we have and the environmental calamities we face. So I would say they’re lifestyle choice is not only a bad investment, it’s immoral.

  5. First of all, what about ease of purchase? We can’t all qualify for the type of mortgage you’d need in order to buy in Boston. So, we move out to the ‘burbs, where the housing is cheaper, so we can become eligible for lower-priced mortgages, but incur higher monthly costs because of transportation.

    Secondly, Boston proper is a HORRIBLE place for families. The schools are miserable abominations of violence, filth, and laziness, and if you put up with that for five years, MAYBE your kid gets into Boston Latin. There are few open spaces for kids to play in. Most decently-priced housing is surrounded by college students. Boston is a good city, but it’s a city for young adults, not families.

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