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Talking Headways Podcast: Location Does Matter

This week, we’re joined by Carrie Makarewicz, associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver; Prentiss Dantzler, assistant professor at Georgia State University; and Arlie Adkins, associate professor at The University of Arizona to talk about their paper in Housing Policy Debate: "Another Look at Location Affordability: Understanding the Detailed Effects of Income and Urban Form on Housing and Transportation Expenditures." The paper looks at how households with varied incomes spend on housing and transportation based on location. It’s the most recent iteration of a debate about whether location impacts people’s transportation spending.

We also chat about the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a continuously collected household dataset started in 1968, the idea of housing as critical infrastructure, and the equity implications of access to jobs and destinations.

You can read the paper by emailing Makarewicz at the link above or downloading from the journal site.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, a partial transcript is below the player. A full transcript (with some typos!) is here.

Jeff Wood (26m 53s): So what did you all find from slicing, dicing the data, cleaning it, putting it together and comparing it with H plus T data. What did you all find out from your work?

Carrie Makarewicz (27m 4s): We found that urban form does matter, that of course, some of the same patterns around the household characteristics are still the most influential. If you can make a lot more income, you are going to spend more on transportation even at the urban form, which would allow you to spend less because you can walk for free, hopefully for all of the lower affordable cost. So we broke our households into five income bands, lowest one being 35 percent of the area median income or less, and the highest being 200 percent of area median income or more. And we found that in each of those income bands, households spent less on transportation costs in urban areas then they did in either or mid-urban, suburban, or rural areas.

And the savings were enough for all of the households, except for the very lowest income bracket, the 35 percent AMI to offset their higher housing costs in the urban areas. So in even some of those income brackets mid-urban areas, but not enough to offset those in the suburban areas is they were spending a lot on housing and transportation, although somewhat less on housing than the renters, which was the only way we could test the statistical significance. So that portion of the study found significantly different spending across the urban form categories from the urban to suburban.

So in a regression model, we also saw that what predicted the lower transportation expenditures was the access to good transit and access to jobs as well as, of course, the household characteristics.

Arlie Adkins (29m 1s): To reiterate what Carrie said, except for that one — the lowest income groups in the urban areas — the data was consistent. And I think that surprised us a little bit, you know, especially because we were following on this paper that had found something very different and things are not always as clear and precise like that as we like them to be in our research findings. But it was a very, very clear pattern that stood out to us when we started running the models.

Prentiss Dantzler (29m 42s): The other piece that we talked about when we were kind of digging in was this idea of a lot of studies tend to be focused on his big kind of a metro areas as singular case studies. But when you really think about it, the nation is not reflective of that. So if you think about where people actually live, a lot of people that don’t live in a densely populated cities, and as a result that you kind of get these kinds of biased estimates where you are including places like in New York or other kind of a lot of Northeastern cities for that matter, really thinking about where people actually live, where even in Atlanta as a more sprawled out kind of nature. So a part of this idea of density that really kind of matters is to take in consideration that urban form and what it really means. And when we just look at where people live is we’re more of a nation of kind of suburban or suburban-built communities, kind of trying to figure out how to urbanize those spaces more so than actually the kind of urban densely populated cities that tend to dominate or a lot of research studies.

Arlie Adkins (30m 36s): That’s a great point, Prentiss. And I think also just thinking in terms of, it’s easy to read research about urban form and kind of dismiss it as, “Oh, you know, they’re talking about, you know, central city, San Francisco or Oakland, or in New York, or, you know, these places that really don’t reflect where a lot of people live.” And here we are really showing that even in some cases, especially in those places that are more, you know, mid-urban to suburban, we are seeing impacts, we’re or seeing the effects of this trade-off between the housing and transportation in a way that aligns very well with what has, has been theorized, in what others have kind of shown previously.

Carrie Makarewicz (31m 26s): Since we have this specific data that we analyzed, unlike papers that often think that there are only about six metro areas in the US where you can take transit, we identified that our urban block groups were in 48 counties and 29 consolidated statistical areas as a place that people often don’t think of Dallas, Houston area, the LA area, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Denver, Salt Lake, of course the density is as large as an area and is widespread is, you know, the six major metros in their chances of systems are up to the level of a New York City subway system. But there are still places in those areas where people live a pretty urban lifestyle, which are multimodal more than drive some places. They bike and walk places.

And so I think is important for us to think about all of these other areas in the country that do you offer affordable transportation costs. And with further investment in sidewalks, operational costs for transit and thinking about where we incentivize jobs to go that these places to become even more affordable in terms of transportation.

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