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The High Cost of Transportation

Our standards of housing affordability leave out a crucial component – transportation costs – according to new research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Transportation is the second highest expense for the average household, and can add greatly to financial stresses on households already burdened by rising housing costs. Nearly two thirds of a moderate-income family’s budget now goes to housing and transportation.

But transportation costs vary widely across communities in the region, said Carrie Makarewicz of CNT. Most new market single family homes that are affordable to median-income families are being built on the far edges of the collar counties – where distance from jobs and shopping mean that transportation costs can add many thousands of dollars to a household’s annual expenses, she said. Meanwhile, new housing developed near transit tends to be high-priced.

On the city’s transit-poor far South Side, where the Red Line extension continues to be postponed, older, affordably-priced housing is far from job-rich areas, so higher transportation expenses undercut household savings on housing.

“It makes a difference whether a family needs one car, or two or three; whether each car is being driven 20,000 miles a year; and not just whether shopping is in walking distance, but whether it’s 1 mile or 10 miles away, and whether a job is 2 miles or 20 miles away,” Makarewicz said.

A range of factors go into CNT’s new housing and transportation affordability index, including density, walkability, distance to employment and services – and not just distance to the nearest transit station, but the extent of transportation connections to that station.

It helps explain why much of the Chicago area’s extensive rail transit system is underutilized, Makarewicz said. Of 402 transit stations in the region, close to half are in areas with less than six dwelling units per acre – too few to support frequent connecting bus service. In the city, CTA lines with irregular service and poor connections are also underutilized, she said.

The new research points to new strategies to promote affordability and relieve financially burdened working families, Makarewicz said.

The implications for planning policy will be the subject of a panel discussion this Thursday, with State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18), urban affairs writer John McCarron, and Wanda White-Gills of Team Englewood. Cosponsored by CNT and the Chicago Rehab Network, the event is Thursday, June 29, 8 to 10:30 a.m., at Fannie Mae Foundation, One South Wacker Drive, 15th Floor.

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Category: sprawl, transportation

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