Transportation and Fair Housing Part 1: We Need a Better Measure of Opportunity

Factoring in costs that tend to be lower in urban high-poverty neighborhoods, but not costs that tend to be higher there makes the H+T Index unsuitable as a tool for locating low-income housing.

In 2010, the Center for Neighborhood Technology released its Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which ranks the affordability of neighborhoods based on a combined housing and transportation cost measure. The index grew out of the recognition that transportation is a growing share of household budgets, and that its cost is directly related to location. Without taking it into account, areas may seem to be “affordable” based on housing cost alone when in fact they impose a high cost burden in terms of transportation. In the following exchange, Philip Tegeler of Poverty and Race Research Action Council (below) and Scott Bernstein of CNT (part 2) discuss what to do about some of the possible unintended consequences of expanding the definition of affordability that far, but not farther.

With their comprehensive “Housing + Transportation Affordability Index,” the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has developed a useful tool for estimating the combined cost of housing and transportation—the two largest shares of most family budgets—for homebuyers in 337 metro areas. The index is a useful tool for moving land use and development decisions away from sprawl, and for informing individual family choices by emphasizing the transportation costs associated with lower priced exurban homes.

However, the index is inappropriate, standing alone, as a tool for siting new low-income family housing. CNT has indicated that it intends the index to be consistent with fair housing goals, but without a strong fair housing overlay, the index has the potential to (once again) steer low-income families into more segregated, higher poverty neighborhoods, because both rental and transportation costs tend to be lower in these neighborhoods.

Read remainder of the story at ShelterForce

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About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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