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The Relationship between Housing and Transportation

01/31/2011

From Hilary Reeves, Communications Manager

The selection of Susan Haigh, CEO of Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity, as the new chair of the Metropolitan Council prompted me to think more distinctly about the connections between housing and transportation.

For background, the Met Council is the regional planning organization for the seven-county metro area. It runs the regional bus and light-rail system, collects and treats wastewater and coordinates water resources preservation, and also plans regional parks and administers funds that provide housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

Here are four interesting points from recent news about housing and transportation:

1.       Naming Susan Haigh, a housing advocate, as chair of the Met Council replicates on the regional level a trend that started nationally with the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which brought together HUD, DOT, and EPA. The Twin Cities—and specifically the Met Council—received a $5 million Sustainable Communities grant last October to support planning that incorporates “housing, land use, economic development, transportation and infrastructure.” Haigh’s appointment could bring key leadership to our region, one that has struggled to align housing, jobs, and infrastructure investments.

2.       The notion of “affordability” is being re-worked – especially when considering housing and transportation together. As the Streetsblog Network reported, “the impact of the housing crisis in far-flung exurban areas has alerted many Americans to the full costs of drive-til-you-qualify home purchases.” Traditionally, the definition of housing affordability is when 30% or less of household income is spent on housing. The financial advice site Bundle found that when the cost of transportation is added to the cost of housing, the total rises to 45% of income! Their analysis of metro regions found that when housing and transportation are taken together, “the number of communities affordable to low-and moderate-income households declines to four out of ten communities.”

3.       Much of the data from above comes from research compiled by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based think tank that has pioneered the “Housing + Transportation Affordability Index” and promoted the idea of “location efficiency.” Here’s what CNT says: “The cost of transportation has become increasingly central to family budgets, given their choices to live farther from jobs and as today’s development patterns require families to use their cars more often to run errands or take their children to school.” For the Met Council, the “take-away” is that we have an opportunity to encourage healthier lifestyles and stronger family budgets by encouraging more walkable, transit friendly communities.

4.       And, lastly, a January 13th, 2011 Wall Street Journal story with the headline “No McMansions for Millennials” has the following lead: “Here’s what Generation Y doesn’t want: formal living rooms, soaker bathtubs, dependence on a car.” The key word here is dependence. The new Met Council and their partners at Mn/DOT make many of the decisions about how transportation dollars are spent. They have the option to allocate so-called transportation “flex” funds to roadway preservation, roadway expansion, transit, trails, and other projects. Using these flex funds wisely, the Met Council under Susan Haigh’s leadership could help the region protect the transit services we have (bus and rail) and meet the growing desire for more affordable options around housing and transportation.

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