The Housing and Transportation Affordability Index is an online tool, based on US Census data, that allows users to examine the combined cost of housing and transportation for their communities.
Often when we think about the affordability of a particular location, we tend to only look at direct housing costs (rent, mortgage, insurance, taxes), but forget that transportation costs often consume as much or more of the family budget. This is especially true in suburban or rural areas, such as Allen County, where less expensive housing is located in auto-dependent areas where people have to drive long distances to access employment, shopping, and recreational amenities.
In Allen County, an average of 27% of residents’ income goes towards housing, and an average of 33% is required for transportation, leaving only 40% of household income for the remainder of family needs — food, clothing, health care, savings, etc.
What is this telling us?
The average American family spends 32% of its household budget on housing, and 19% on transportation. In Allen County, our housing is relatively affordable, but our transportation costs are quite high.
This tells us that residing in a location where it’s possible to walk or bike for everyday transportation, and only using a motor vehicle for longer trips, families can save some serious dollars. Remember, an automobile costs, on average, more than 50 cents per mile to operate.
This also tells us that it is wise to look at more than just the rent or the mortgage when choosing a home. Location matters. Choosing a less expensive home, where you have to drive everywhere, can be false economy. This is especially true in relation to employment: People who live far from work (or work far from home) spend far more of their income on transportation (and this penalty will only increase as fuel costs rise) and spend far more of each day “on the road”, time that could perhaps better be spent with family.
Additionally, this tells us that investments in our downtowns — which offer the most destinations for shopping, education, worship, recreation, and employment — are of prime importance in improving the overall financial efficiency and economic vitality of our residents.