New Research: Affordability of American Communities Has Declined Since 2000

Compact neighborhoods with access to transit, jobs and amenities have lower transportation costs. Photo by Hawkins.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a creative think-tank that conducts research on sustainable communities, released the latest version of its Housing + Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index with data from the most recent U.S. Census. The updated and expanded H+T® Index reveals that the combined housing and transportation affordability has disappointingly declined since 2000.

The Index looks at the true affordability and location efficiency of metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, and ranks them based on the highest and lowest average monthly transportation costs for a typical family earning the national median income.

According to the Index, the majority of American communities are unaffordable. In a typical regional household, with transportation as the second largest expense in a family budget, 72 percent of communities is considered unaffordable, but this value changes depending on the definition of affordability.

If we consider the traditional definition of housing affordability, where rent or mortgage payments make up no more than 30 percent of household income, then 76 percent of American communities are considered affordable. However, if we use the expanded definition of household affordability, where housing and transportation costs make up no more than 45 percent of the household income, then only 28 percent of American communities are considered affordable, which is a loss of 86,000 neighborhoods.  The H+T® Affordability Index considers the latter method a more complete measure of affordability, where combined housing and transportation take up no more than 45 percent of a household budget.

The Index also finds that transportation costs have increased by 39 percent—or $318 per month—since 2000, while housing costs have increased by 37 percent and the median income by 22 percent, nationwide. The unbalanced increase of housing and transportation costs to median income make it that much more difficult for a typical household to find a truly affordable place to live.

Furthermore, the study finds that if anyone is better off under these circumstances, it is those people who live in walkable neighborhoods. In fact, despite the increase in housing and transportation costs since 2000, people living in areas with access to transit, jobs and amenities have had a smaller increase than those living in car-dependent places. For example, a typical family living in an efficient neighborhood with access to transit, jobs and amenities saw an annual increase of $1,400 in transportation costs, whereas a family living in an inefficient neighborhood saw an annual increase of $3,900. That costs difference is a matter of saving or spending $200 every month.

See the H+T® Affordability Index ranking by metropolitan statistical areas.

Learn more about the H+T® Affordability Index here.

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