Report: Suburban Transportation Costs Offset Lower Housing Prices

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 13, 2010

A new study on Boston by the Urban Land Institute concludes that once you factor in the cost of transportation, it is actually more expensive to live in a cheaper suburban house and commute than it is to live in a more expensive urban neighbourhood.

The report [PDF link] states:

Long and frequent trips in an automobile - whether back and forth to work or school, for every-day errands, or for entertainment - can stress a working family's budget, can cause countless hours to be wasted behind the wheel, and can take a serious environmental toll on the region.

As this report shows, areas that are characterized by good access to public transit, jobs, and nearby amenities not only have the potential to keep combined housing and transportation costs in check, but they also can lower greenhouse gas emissions and provide for a more environmentally sustainable future.

With Hamilton currently facing the Spectator's CODE RED series on poverty, the following conclusions of the Boston study are particularly timely:

Leaders in the Boston area have long recognized that to maintain and grow the regional economy, households on all rungs of the income ladder must be able to ind affordable housing options. Without such opportunities, the labor pool needed to power the economy may have no choice but to look for work in other metropolitan areas where housing is less expensive.

But affordable housing by itself is not suficient if its location requires families to experience long, frequent, and expensive car trips. A focus on the combined burdens of housing and transportation costs highlights the importance of strategies such as building mixed-income housing near public transit and job centers and zoning for a mix of uses to reduce the need to drive long distances to meet basic needs.

Such strategies help keep costs low for working families, strengthen the economy, and lower the carbon emissions of current and future generations.

If higher transportation costs can offset lower housing costs in a market like Boston, which has some of the most expensive real estate in North America, imagine the potential for a city like Hamilton, which has an intact but underused urban built form and excellent prospects to improve the quality of our public transportation system.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 14:53:49

And lets not forget the lower housing costs are actually artificially low due to subsidies.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 16:08:09

So many people are living in suburbia for so many reasons. Cheap is not necessarily one of them as evidenced by the cost of some of the houses. There are so many things that attract people out of the city it's hard to believe the trend will ever reverse but one never knows maybe one day it will change. I believe first the city must change and give people reasons to move.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 07, 2010 at 20:34:21

I believe first the city must change and give people reasons to move.

Yet every time we propose making changes to the city to give people reasons to move, you crap all over them. Fancy that.

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