Enviro The True Cost of “Affordable” Suburban Housing
posted by April 10 at 13:40 PMon
People love to bitch about how Seattle is becoming unaffordable for the middle class. (For the most recent example of this, see KC council member Reagan Dunn’s rehash of the thoroughly debunked Theo Eicher study contending that land-use regulations are driving people out of the city in yesterday’s Seattle Times). This is the argument most commonly used for anti-growth management, pro-suburban land use policies—middle-class people have to live somewhere; the suburbs, and exurbs, just provide them an affordable place to do it.
One factor that often doesn’t get considered in discussions of Seattle’s rising prices is transportation costs. It makes sense that if you have to “drive until you qualify,” as one common justification of living in the suburbs puts it, the cost of that driving ought to be considered as part of the cost of living far outside the city. Generally, though, it isn’t—allowing pro-suburban, anti-regulation, anti-density pundits and politicians to claim that Seattle’s housing prices are “out of control” and that the suburbs are the only “affordable” alternative.
The Center for Neighborhood Technology wants to change that. Injecting a dose of badly needed sanity into the debate over housing costs, CNT has put together an “affordability index” that considers both housing prices and transportation costs in about 50 metropolitan areas. According to CNT’s analysis of the Seattle region, the most affordable parts of our region are actually inside city limits—once transportation costs are factored in.
Check out CNT’s map of central Seattle. Blue areas are those where housing and transportation together cost more than 48 percent of median household income ($50,733 for a family of 2.5); taupe areas are places where they cost less. As you can see, while there are certainly parts of the central city that are unaffordable to the median Seattle worker (North Capitol Hill; Madison Valley), most of the center city is well within reach—once transportation costs are factored in.
Now check out North Seattle.
Less affordability here, yes, but still, there are many, many areas where the total cost of housing and transportation put housing well within reach of the median Seattle household.
Now let’s take a look at some of Seattle’s suburbs. First up: Sammamish and Issaquah, two popular places for suburban commuters to settle down.
You’ll notice that the map is virtually all blue, with the exception of a tiny stretch around downtown Issaquah.
In Maple Valley and Black Diamond, the picture’s much the same:
I could go on, but the results are consistent: If you live in a dense area with good access to transit, you’ll drive less, and pay less overall.
Incidentally, this trend holds true in dense inner-ring suburbs with access to transit, too—as you can see from looking at a map of the entire Seattle region: