Via Atrios, the Center for Neighborhood Technology has released an updated survey of affordable housing that takes into account transportation costs as well as rent and mortgage costs. Their conclusion: there's a lot less affordable housing out there than we think:
Under the conventional definition, 30% or less of household income, 69% of U.S. communities have average housing costs that are considered “affordable” to the typical household. But in almost all metro regions of the country, when the definition of affordability includes both housing and transportation costs (at 45% of income), the number of communities considered affordable for typical households plummets, often dramatically. Across the country, only 40% of U.S. communities are affordable to the typical household when transportation costs are included.
They include a map that calculates affordability for 330 metro areas in the U.S., which means that 80% of you can check out the affordability of your neighborhood. Mine is on the right. Not very affordable! Which isn't too surprising since it boasts both expensive housing and high transportation costs. In fact, I'm surprised it's as affordable as it is.
This kind of calculation seems like a good idea, but I guess I'm left with one question: where did the 45% benchmark for affordability come from? I know these things are always a bit arbitrary, but if instead you went from 30% (without transportation costs) to, say, 50% (with transportation costs), overall affordability might end up looking about the same as it is now. So who came up with 15% as the magic number for how much transportation ought to cost?
In any case, if you're thinking of moving, the map might be kind of useful. Obviously your personal costs will depend on exactly what kind of place you live in and what kind of commuting you do (my personal affordability index is pretty awesome, for example, since all I do is walk down the stairs to go to work), but it's not a bad idea to see the numbers in black and white anyway. A lot of people with average commuting and recreational patterns don't calculate how much this actually costs, and the map forces you to take this stuff seriously. It's worth a look.