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Value-added housing costs
April 28, 2008 11:04 AM   Subscribe

How far away from work do you live? How much of your pay gets used up to get you to and from work, get you around town, and pay for where you live? As gas and food prices continue to rise, "affordability" has become a more critical notion for everyday Americans. The Center for Neighborhood Technology developed their Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which aims to help better inform renters and owners about the relationship of transportation options to where one lives.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (85 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
That third link is pretty great; that the options under the Advanced tab make it possible to tune for rent vs. own, car vs. none, etc is cool.

In this context, it's damned hard to beat renting and working downtown without a car. I know I won't be doing it forever—apartment living has some drawbacks, and I want my own basement, dammit—but its an awfully convenient way to be.
posted by cortex at 11:14 AM on April 28, 2008


Yeah, I have to agree. Living on capitol hill and taking the bus to work (paid for by work) is actually one of the more affordable options. Unless I wanted to buy a condo, but purchase cost of a condo anywhere near a busline to work would cancel out any savings from 'ownership.'

If you want to overlay even more ontop of this, this calculator from the NYTimes is pretty handy. It lets you calculate when it would take for you to break even / start saving money by owning property instead of renting it.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:29 AM on April 28, 2008


By all measures it looks like I should move.
posted by caddis at 11:33 AM on April 28, 2008


I live 500 feet from my office. It's about a five minute walk from my front door to my desk.

The gas savings are nice, the sanity savings even nicer. Whenever I'm feeling down, I tell a fellow LA dweller about my daily commute and their jealousy cheers me up.
posted by mullingitover at 11:33 AM on April 28, 2008


It takes me two hours to get to work by public transportation (don't own a car, don't want one. thems the breaks, I guess) and I spend about half of income on rent and transportation costs. I'm not sure what that means for me.
posted by shmegegge at 11:38 AM on April 28, 2008


Exactly 4 blocks north of the office. About a 5 minute walk if I don't stop for breakfast.

None of my pay for the work commute. Occasional subway rides to get around town. Rare taxi when there has been drinking.

Its the paying for where I live part that bites, but living in NYC is still super great.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2008


The only commute cost I incur is the $90 I spend on walking shoes every few months; I walk a mile and a third each way. On the other hand, our tiny row house cost us $350 a square foot.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:41 AM on April 28, 2008


ok, using that ny times calculator (average home price in my area is 450,000 though home prices vary wildly between 400,000 and a million depending on which neighborhood you're looking at) buying a house will never be better for me financially than continuing to rent my $975/month apartment. presumably, this is why things like having kids turn your life upside down. suddenly that awesome little one bedroom isn't so awesome.
posted by shmegegge at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2008


Their interactive map of Portland, ME is missing the peninsula, which is sort of confusing. It does sort of match what I would expect, though.

What gets me is the people who commute .75 miles BY CAR. Yes, these people exist. They pass me every morning on the way to work. Why would you want to do this? The number of people who walk down the hill into the Old Port every day is kind of sad.
posted by selfnoise at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2008


(I mean, the smallness of the number is sad)
posted by selfnoise at 11:46 AM on April 28, 2008


I save $1000 a year by taking public transportation and/or riding my bike to work. I ride 7 months and bus during winter. Plus I get plenty of exercise, the bike ride is only 20 minutes either way.
posted by sciurus at 11:47 AM on April 28, 2008


I'm not sure what that means for me.

It means you should move your ass to Portland, sir.
posted by cortex at 11:51 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


how much is rent in portland?
posted by shmegegge at 11:55 AM on April 28, 2008


The widget seems like it leaves out some very important info - it deals with the costs of housing and transportation as a percentage of income, but does not address income. It seems to me that wealthier areas can bear a higher percentage of income dedicated to housing and transportation than poorer areas can.
posted by Mister_A at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2008


Our awesome little one-bedroom right downtown costs a hundred and something less a month than yours. Anywhere other than right the hell downtown is cheaper than that. Plus: beer, and giant donuts.
posted by cortex at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2008


I really wish I could afford to retain ownership of my condo and rent it out. I'm sure that in a few years, I could easily pay the mortgage with rent from people who want to live only a few miles from downtown, within 100 feet of a major light-rail system. Real estate may suck right now, but it will hold it's value very well as long as it's somewhere you can live and commute to work without a car. As well as having food/shopping within walking distance.
posted by ninjew at 12:04 PM on April 28, 2008


I used to live in midtown manhattan (hells kitchen) because of the proximity to my office, which was at herald square. as happy as I was not having to take the stinking and steaming F-train from brooklyn like my then girlfriend had to, the lack of cool bars within an easy walking distance, the shitty supermarkets, the always-at-the-other-end-of-town places we'd all meet and so on made living there not worth it for me. and I haven't even started talking about the tourists. there is more to quality of life than pecuniary concerns.

and this is for sciurus: I currently live in london. driving a car into the center of town costs you £8 and if ken wins the election that might very well go up. the congestion charge is not nearly as good as you'd think because it charges the same for a massive bentley or land rover as a tiny punto has to pay and there are now so many exceptions that the city is clogged all over again. ken has a plan to raise the charge for gas gusslers, which makes kind of sense, but he has to survive the upcoming election first. that's not certain - he drove 40% more passengers into the tube system without making sure it could handle them. we now have the most expensive, most overcrowded and most unreliable subway system I have experienced so far. I spent three hours sitting in a jubilee line tube a few nights ago and ended up being escorted across tracks into the next station to get out. this line is supposed to be one of the "good" ones.

I probably save more than you by not living in a more expensive location closer to work and using public transportation. but this month I'm gonna think of you every time I squeeze into a sweat-drenched train, every time I get elbowed by a granny, every time I'm being told there's another train just behind this one when there isn't, every time I can't get out of the cart because of all the people and every time I am sitting sweaty and unfresh in my office. and all those thoughts of you are going to be accompanied by words like hope, you, get, hit, by, a and bus.
posted by krautland at 12:04 PM on April 28, 2008


DavisT writes "All of these steps are great, but even with gasoline (and oil) priced this high, why haven't we seen the demand destruction that everyone keeps predicting?"

Um, because oil and gasoline are textbook examples of products which have close to zero price elasticity. Switching costs are high, and switching from gasoline basically amounts to a renunciation of the lifestyle that depended on it. People don't tend to give up their lifestyle very easily.

The pattern is that oil prices jump just up to the point that the friction against paying the switching costs is about to be broken, and then it drops down to prevent an alternative from taking root.
posted by mullingitover at 12:05 PM on April 28, 2008


selfnoise, someone I know who lives on Clark St by Reiche has only walked downtown once or twice in the entire time she's lived there-- almost ten years.

people are insane.

This is pretty interesting. It would be cool to have an overlay of stuff that you need in an urban area. You know, are groceries available in the dense areas or are they flung off a highway somewhere; that kind of thing.
posted by miss tea at 12:10 PM on April 28, 2008


From the first-linked Times story:

Though seemingly small, the daily trade-offs they are making — more pasta and less red meat, more video rentals and fewer movie tickets — amount to an important shift in consumer behavior.

In Ohio, Holly Levitsky is replacing the Lucky Charms cereal in her kitchen with Millville Marshmallows and Stars, a less expensive store brand. In New Hampshire, George Goulet is no longer booking hotel rooms at the Hilton, favoring the lower-cost Hampton Inn. And in Michigan, Jennifer Olden is buying Gain laundry detergent instead of the full-price Tide.


Gain? Millville?

Well, it took longer than initially predicted, but the terrorists have finally won. Oh, for those proud days of autumn in 2001 when one could join the President's brother poolside on a Carnival liner bound for St Kitts and call oneself a patriot and mean it.

I . . . I just don't recognize this country anymore.

*adds shot of blended whiskey to his store-brand club soda*

*weeps for future*
posted by gompa at 12:10 PM on April 28, 2008


I live about a half mile from my office, spend $207 a month on rent (it's an admittedly exceptional circumstance - student-owned cooperative housing) and only own a bicycle. Probably spend between $25 and $50 a month for occasional trips to the nearby Big City on the train, which make up the greatest part of my transportation budget. (Unless buying the occasional piece of unneccesary but really shiny bike gear counts as transportation...)

Less Expenses => Less need to work => Summer bike tours => longer, healthier life (assuming the blasted trucks don't kill me).

Really, I read Thoreau at a young age and determined that the best way to get what one wants from life is to cut expenses as much as possible and obtain greater freedom as a result. Here's a favorite passage. (it's about railroads, but one can easily read 'cars' into all of the railroad references...)

'Such is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with regard to the railroad even we may say it is as broad as it is long. To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over — and it will be called, and will be, "A melancholy accident." No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time. This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. "What!" exclaim a million Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, "is not this railroad which we have built a good thing?" Yes, I answer, comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt.'
-hd thoreau, walden ch1.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:13 PM on April 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


cortex writes "Our awesome little one-bedroom right downtown costs a hundred and something less a month than yours. Anywhere other than right the hell downtown is cheaper than that. Plus: beer, and giant donuts."

I lived in a house in southeast pdx for three years (14th and division, represent) and paid $150 a month in rent. This was with the help of lots of roommates, but one of them was an avid homebrewer. When I felt crowded I just downed my sorrow in sweet, sweet beer.

I never imagined I'd move, end up paying 400% more in rent, and still be getting a relative bargain.
posted by mullingitover at 12:14 PM on April 28, 2008


as happy as I was not having to take the stinking and steaming F-train from brooklyn like my then girlfriend had to, the lack of cool bars within an easy walking distance, the shitty supermarkets, the always-at-the-other-end-of-town places we'd all meet and so on made living there not worth it for me.

But when more people live near where they work, services follow them. The little neighborhood I live in, 1.6 miles from my job, was kind of dead when I moved in 4 years ago. As employment opportunity increased in the nearby city, and housing there stayed limited, a lot of new people who work in the city moved into the neighborhood. Unlike the former residents - mostly commuters to Portland or Boston or retirees - they were arriving home with the evening ahead of them after a 10-minute commute by bike, foot, or car, ready to relax near home and avoid going back into downtown. Once the audience was there, local entrepreneurs came in and started - in under 4 years - a bistro, an Indian take-out, a dance/yoga class studio, a wine shop with italian goodies, a taco takeout place that expanded again into a full-on bar/cantina, and a breakfast/coffee joint. The library added evening hours on Thursday. A seasonal "night around town" night got started and businesses and people joined in presenting a community open house, where you can meet your neighbors and get to know the facilities available.

All this was a direct result of a new neighborhood market. I think if only a few people are available in a neighborhood from 5-8 PM, there will be very few services for them. When there is enough critical mass to form a market, the services will follow as people see opportunity. But the change in residential habits has to lead the change in commercial activities. Ending the long commutes means a much more vital neighborhood life and much more opportunity for sustaining small-scale, locally owned business.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Europeans pay upwards of $8 or $9/gal, it doesn't stop them.

Europeans use far less fuel than Americans. I'm sure that part of the reason for that is their higher fuel prices.
posted by ssg at 12:21 PM on April 28, 2008


My wife and I don't own a car (although we do belong to AutoShare) and rent a fairly spacious (for Toronto) 2-bedroom apartment, which includes a back yard and a basement large enough to hold a washer/dryer combo and a makeshift home music studio, for $1010/month. Since housing prices in T.O. are still pretty nuts (the bubble hasn't popped yet...there are a lot of people saying it'll never happen here, which is usually a bad sign), it would probably cost us somewhere between $350,000-$400,000 to buy the place we live in. I plugged the numbers into this calculator and determined that if we wanted to own the apartment we'd be paying somewhere around $2500/month to live there, and that "Your home purchase does not break even after 25 years" (so, basically, unless I'm missing something, the only way you're gonna make a lot of money buying a house in Toronto right now is if the market keeps going up forever and when you sell the house you move somewhere where housing is significantly cheaper). I'll continue to take my chances with renting, thanks. YMMV.

The drawback is that my commute is about an hour each way (by streetcar, subway and bus, the public transit trifecta), and for every hour I spend on public transit I age three.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:21 PM on April 28, 2008


Rents in Maine (Craigslist here is statewide). We pay a lot less than the average because we've been here a while (Woodford's Corner area). We also pay office rent for Mr. Mon Dieu's business otherwise we'd have moved up by now to something else (office rent is fairly cheap in the right place, tho').

Selfnoise, we're looking at bikes right now. I have no commute, as I work out of the house. Mr. Mon Dieu works 2-3 miles away but due to two artificial hips, has no choice but to drive. He's looking at taking a bike a few times a week, if he can figure out how to take his laptop, books and sundries on a bike (saddle bags?). We figure it will pay for itself in gas savings alone and something we can do together in our free time (he tried walking the Back Bay w/me and couldn't do it more than 1/8 a mile).

The gas prices are also making us think more about staying local with our outings instead of driving up to say, Bailey's Island or Harpswell for a day trip.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2008


Oops: apts. link here.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:28 PM on April 28, 2008


I'm glad that this affordability calculator factors in transportation costs.

I was terrified to move to New York on 39,000, the same salary I was making in Raleigh, NC; but although my rent went up, I ended up saving about $300 on a car payment, insurance, gas, etc. And those were my costs BEFORE gas went up to $3!

People whine about how expensive New York is, but when you don't have to buy a car, it's a pretty good deal.
posted by Jeanne at 12:31 PM on April 28, 2008


I should add that even though my commute sucks, pretty much all of our necessities (food, booze, hardware, drug and video stores) can be procured at businesses we can walk or ride our bikes to, which is fantastic.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:31 PM on April 28, 2008


Somewhat related, somewhat less savvy, but applicable outside the US as well: WalkScore.
posted by regicide is good for you at 12:38 PM on April 28, 2008


I live about a mile from work, maybe less. I've never measured, and I walk or bike different routes depending on my mood and how late I am leaving for work, routes that couldn't be taken with a car. I bought my house about 7 years ago. When I was looking for a house to purchase, one of my main criteria was being close enough to work to bike or walk. I value my time, and would rather spend an hour or two a day at home with my dogs than commuting in a car or on public transport. So I spent extra money at the time to get a smaller house that needed work. People I work with thought I was crazy, that I could have bought a newer, larger house for the same money. But, that would have been in outer suburbia, and that would have been antithetical to the things I really enjoy in life. No amount of explaining would get them to understand it. Now, they all think I was a genius or prescient with what the price of gas has done, and how my area has held it's property values while outer suburbia is currently taking it in the shorts. Turns out the things I value are what a lot of people value, and it remains in demand even in these souring economic times. I also have lots of room on my property for gardening, so I'll be saving on food costs, as well as doing something I enjoy.
posted by Eekacat at 12:42 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The house my wife and I bought was about two miles from our work, it was a wonderful experience only needing a couple of minutes to drive to work, or bike if I felt so motivated. Then the dotcom crash took that old ISP and eviscerated it, and we were both laid off.

When we finally found work again, the closest place was 35 minutes each way for me (by car), and nearly 45 for her. We carpool as often as possible, but sometimes it just isn't feasible, and since there isn't any public transportation that services my area, if I want to keep drawing a paycheck, I'm spending money on gas.

It's infuriating. I envy all of you who can walk to work.
posted by quin at 12:45 PM on April 28, 2008


It's good to think about things this way. In my experience, far too many Americans fail to consider the cost of transportation—not even just the financial cost but even time spent commuting (not to mention the harm to communities or environment). Otherwise there wouldn't be so many exurbs.
posted by grouse at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2008


I work from home. Sometimes I get in the car and drive round the block a few times before sitting down at my desk in the morning to get that "freshly commuted" feeling.
posted by rhymer at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


"In Ohio, Holly Levitsky is replacing the Lucky Charms cereal in her kitchen with Millville Marshmallows and Stars, a less expensive store brand. In New Hampshire, George Goulet is no longer booking hotel rooms at the Hilton, favoring the lower-cost Hampton Inn. And in Michigan, Jennifer Olden is buying Gain laundry detergent instead of the full-price Tide."

I read this last night, and my first thought was: "Well, why weren't you doing that from the beginning?"
But, then, maybe I'm just a cheap bastard not doing my part for the economy.
posted by madajb at 12:50 PM on April 28, 2008


Two miles by bike from home to work, ride home for lunch every day. Life is grand. I'm apparently one of about twelve people in America who actually chose their home based on its proximity to their place of employment.
posted by fixedgear at 12:51 PM on April 28, 2008


"All of these steps are great, but even with gasoline (and oil) priced this high, why haven't we seen the demand destruction that everyone keeps predicting?"

Because when the price of Heroin goes up, junkies don't say "Wow, this habit of mine is really cutting into the family budget. I better cut back a bit."

No, they stop paying their rent. Or stop paying the electric bill. Or stop buying food. Or start selling themselves on the street corner. Or start selling their wives the same way. Or their kids.

If and when gas rises to 5 and 10 dollars a gallon (which, I believe is only a matter of time until it inevitably does -- perhaps a matter of years, certainly a decade or two) people will change their spending behavior, but not in regards to gas. They'll start growing vegetables in their backyards or forgo medical care before they cut back on gas. Part of the reason for that is geography, of course -- hence the point of this FPP. But the other part of the reason is that we are simply addicted to fuel, and we will do absolutely anything to get our next fix.
posted by Avenger at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


My goal is to work from home, wouldnt that be great....
posted by supe at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2008


Same here, Eekacat. Nearly everyone I work with drives in from the suburbs, and complains about it continually.

I first found a neighborhood I liked, then found a job I could walk to. I've moved twice since then, but each time I've made sure I could walk. It's a long walk--over 2.5 miles a day, a good hour of walking, in snow, in summer heat, while it's raining, when I have a hangover. It can be a pain in the ass, but, yeah, no driving. I love it.

I pass drug stores, groceries, liquor stores, just about anything on my walk. The fantastic Eastern Market is half-way home. And, hell, even in my dating days I rarely needed to leave the neighborhood. Yes, we did have to make sacrifices. Our house is tiny. But when I get home in the evening, I've had a nice walk, am wound-down, and am ready to attack dinner or whatever chores need doing. We've wedged in about 150 square feet of intensely-managed garden space; I'm not at all convinced that gardening saves us any money, really, but we do get fantastic produce, and it's a great hobby.

We do own a car--the main use is fetching my daughter, who lives in a close-in suburb with her mom. If it weren't for that, we'd defintiely go Zipcar. Our car just this past weekend rolled over 17,000 miles. We bought it in December 2005.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:05 PM on April 28, 2008


Since we moved to just outside of downtown, I walk five blocks to work. The money savings is nice but the real savings is in time and sanity. I used to drive an hour each way to work which was time that I'd never get back and drove me crazy too. Living in the city is so much calmer than life in the 'burbs was, it doesn't even compare. And since this is Pittsburgh, real-estate in the city is no more expensive than that in the 'burbs, we only paid $75 a square foot for our townhouse.
posted by octothorpe at 1:13 PM on April 28, 2008


Miko- the same thing started to happen in my college town, once the downtown board convinced the store owners to stay open past 5pm. Most of the shops were run by couples, as a secondary income / hobby, while their partner was at the office. So obviously once their partner was home from work, they wanted to go home also. However in the college town, no potential customers were available until 4 or 5 at night. They convinced the shop keepers to extend their hours until 8, and all of a sudden the students started going into the stores that were always closed when they were walking to the bars. All the nifty little art shops actually started selling stuff during the week, and when parents came to visit for weekends, the students knew all these neat places they could take their parents for a change, instead of going to the country cupboard diner next to the hotel in town.

If I had the money, I would have bought a building on the main street in columbia city here in Seattle. It is now a 3 minute walk from the light rail, which in a year will run straight into downtown. Of course seattle already has a lot of these trolly car neighborhoods (the best term i've heard describe them) all over the area from the the turn of the century. In my neighbor hood, even off of broadway, you find little alcoves of 3-4 bars, an indian place, and coffeeshop. Maybe a personal trainer or a bistro. It is really quite eye opening to just wander around and realize that there are new mini neighborhoods every 5-10 blocks.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Work-Commute-Life balance is my favorite subject ever. Thanks for the links.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:17 PM on April 28, 2008


The "American dream" of a house and yard is very persistent, it seems. And the standard for the size of that house and yard keeps going up. Maybe I just don't understand, because I didn't grow up in America, nor in a house, but how exactly is a long, traffic-choked, expensive commute worth it?

Sure, it would be nice to have a yard for my dog, but as long as there's a park nearby I'll take city living every time. But at the same time as we were buying a 1-br condo in a walkable, transit-friendly inner suburb, friends bought 3, 4 bedroom houses in the outer suburbs and exurbs. These were single guys, WTF do they need the space? Another couple moved to a smaller city, and bought a house in the suburbs there. And yeah, they're all complaining now, not just about gas and utility costs, but also how bored they are, how nothing's nearby and no one wants to visit.

A pregnant co-worker at my last job also moved out of the city, saying with a sneer, "I won't raise my child in a townhouse!" (I wonder what she'd have said if I told her I grew up in an apartment.) Another co-worker commutes about two hours each way to a house out in the suburbs, with a driving/transit combo. He's here for about 10 hours each day so he must see his family, oh, never? It it really, really worth it? Does anyone even think about that? The big house as a symbol of success really needs to die.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 1:17 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm apparently one of about twelve people in America who actually chose their home based on its proximity to their place of employment.

Well, it's a nice trick if you can manage it. I got lucky: two jobs in a row downtown (though I wasn't living downtown when I started the first one). But I suspect that most folks can't so thoroughly depend on long-term employment that they're buying (or renting) on the assumption that their commute will be static over the long haul, so it's more of a probability cloud than anything. Which, again, yay for downtown Portland because the hub of public transit is a good place to be if my commute did somehow change, but still. I fear the day I buy a house and end up with a workplace that's not where I expected it to be.

I've got a lot of friends in Massachusetts who can't or don't want to afford Boston proper and who commute a half an hour or an hour every day to the north or south or east, and it changes yearly as the jobs do. If you're moving from company to company (or even campus to campus) in New England, I suppose the fact that the commutes won't be impossible makes it easier to resign yourself to an hour drive where a Portland-to-Seattle relocation would probably be enough of a dealbreaker to force you to move your home.
posted by cortex at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2008


As the only North American city without any freeways, Vancouver has become a nightmare to drive in over the last decade. With this is mind, when I changed careers last year, I deliberately targeted businesses in my neighborhood. As a result, this is what my commute looks like. In fact, I am at home right now, eating a nutritious and inexpensive hot lunch.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:34 PM on April 28, 2008


Yeah, if you can afford/manage to move close to your employer, it's awesome. Four blocks from my office in Seattle, WalkScore of 94. Five blocks from my office in Los Angeles, WalkScore of 95. Sadly, my current place in Austin, TX only rates a WalkScore of 68. Austin's built for cars.
posted by sdodd at 1:40 PM on April 28, 2008


Funny this should come up. I just read a post on Atrios pointing out that it is the exurban houses where the prices were over inflated and that the core of the problem is centered in these areas far from where people work.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:44 PM on April 28, 2008


A few years ago, around when gas prices started going up, I quit my job that was 12 miles away for one a mile and a half away that paid less. Through that switch, I ended up with a promotion to a job that's a 3 mile walk (winter) or bike ride (not winter).

The downside, is with a kid on the way, it's hard to find a place that's family-friendly, within walking distance of stuff, and is somewhat affordable.
posted by drezdn at 1:48 PM on April 28, 2008


My parents recently moved to the outskirts of Tuscon, AZ. Their home has a WalkScore of, I kid you not, 2.

I'm very serious when I tell them that I think their entire subdivision and all the others like it are going to dry up and blow away in 20-30 years. They don't much care; big house, shiny car, like-minded neighbors = great life for them. Ugh.
posted by gurple at 1:56 PM on April 28, 2008


> And yeah, they're all complaining now, not just about gas and utility costs, but also how bored they are, how nothing's nearby and no one wants to visit.

> The downside, is with a kid on the way, it's hard to find a place that's family-friendly..

Anecdotally speaking, I have a few friends who grew up in Toronto's suburbs (Newmarket, Thornhill and thereabouts), and they have a lot of stories about getting into trouble as teenagers because they had nowhere interesting to go, and nothing to do. Also the whole thing about suburbs being safer than cities is a bit of a myth. You might have a slightly smaller chance of, say, getting caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout or being killed by a burgler, but your chance of dying or being injured in a car accident goes way up.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2008


I think drezdn makes a great, and overlooked, point. It's easy to find somewhere to live which is very walkable and in a decent area if you're a single guy or gal. It's maybe even easier if you're a young couple with two incomes.

It becomes much more complicated when you add kids into the equation.

All of a sudden you've got to factor all the extra groceries (too many to carry!), you've got to factor in schools, you've got to factor in that the kids need to go places, you've got to factor in all kinds of things that don't even register if you're single or childless.

Once you have a kid or two a car becomes much more indispensable. Not impossible to do without, but much much harder. I certainly know from living in LA that there are great walkable neighborhoods for single people that I would never live in with a kid because the local school isn't up to snuff.
posted by Justinian at 1:59 PM on April 28, 2008


I wonder what she'd have said if I told her I grew up in an apartment

I get the strangest uncomprehending looks from my co-workers (in Atlanta) when I tell them that I grew up (as part of a family of four) in a two-bedroom apartment (in NYC). They just can't wrap their brains around it, especially when I tell them that I didn't have (or really need) a driver's license until three weeks before my 21st birthday, and had never mowed a lawn until I was 28 years old.

However, I have adjusted to the standard of living in and around Atlanta. Mrs. Deadmessenger and I own a moderately-sized suburban house, and on my one or two days in the office each week (the rest of my time is spent traveling or telecommuting) I drive about 35 miles each way. It blows, but it's kinda necessary - places near my job cost four times as much as where I live now, and I just can't swing that. I figured out a few years ago that even if I had a five-day commute, driving a car that gets 20MPG, gas would have to go up to about $30/gal to offset the additional mortgage payment it would take to buy a place near my job.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:10 PM on April 28, 2008


I have to grant you that, Justinian. If my daughter didn't have the wonderful inner-suburban schools to go to, I might have made another choice.

But I also agree with Mr Bunnsy--too, too many people don't seem to ever even ask the questions. There are an awful lot of DINKs who totally buy into the big-house-in-the-suburbs American dream. I mean, if that's what you really want, fine. I can certainly see how I'd like to have more space, more room, a basement with a shop, privacy from the neighbors, a yard where I can actually do stuff. But every time I drive out to the suburbs I'm reminded of how very happy I am that I don't have to do it every day.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2008


I'm apparently one of about twelve people in America who actually chose their home based on its proximity to their place of employment.

Question for you: do you have a contingency plan if you're "downsized" and need to take a job further away from home? Do you plan to relocate if that happens? Do you have school-age children, and are you willing to pull them out of school if that happens?
posted by deadmessenger at 2:16 PM on April 28, 2008


I should say that even living in the center of the city, I still need a car. The only grocery store is over a mile away and it sucks. Any good ones are in the suburbs. And there are just too many other stores that just don't exist anymore in the city that you need to drive somewhere else to get to. A list off the top of my head: hardware/lumber, dry cleaning, pet supplies, furniture, clothes. None of those are easily available without a car in the area of the city where I live and then even if you could walk there, you couldn't get the stuff home. So, I'm not giving up my car but I don't actually drive it very much, maybe 4000 miles a year at the outside.
posted by octothorpe at 2:16 PM on April 28, 2008


My commute is ten seconds, if I walk slow. Or if I don't want get out of bed, there's always the laptop and a propped up pillow. Which is how I'm writing this now.
posted by jscalzi at 2:30 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


My initial post might have been too harsh - of course kids and multiple commutes complicate things, and the quiet and privacy of a detached house are appealing in a very basic way.

Well-planned, dense suburbs exist - there are several in the DC area where you can have a house with a yard, and your kids can walk or take a short bus ride to school, the supermarket is a five-minute drive away, and there is bus and rail transit to work. It's a nice life, and as the market recognized that, those houses have gotten really, really expensive.

And maybe with that ideal suburb in their minds, where their parents could afford to live, people buy homes in crappy suburbs, with no transit, no trees, no sidewalks. And sit in traffic for hours each day, and spend a fortune on utilities and gas, because the house you get for $300k may be bigger than the one you get for 600k closer in, but the differential is made up in quality of life.

But then, we don't consider externalities in business, either, why wouldn't we be blind to them in our own lives?
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 2:32 PM on April 28, 2008


Cost to get to work every day = $2.50 (round trip on the bus)

In the next few months, they're going to be lowering the rates to $1.00 per trip.
posted by Lucinda at 2:43 PM on April 28, 2008


In the next few months, they're going to be lowering the rates to $1.00 per trip.

Outstanding. Here in Seattle, they just raised the bus fare by 25c, and as far as I can tell there was practically no outcry. I wasn't crying out, myself, because I had no idea it was coming and I have a bus pass.

But it's criminal. At a time when we need to be encouraging people to get out of their cars, they raise the bus fare?
posted by gurple at 3:01 PM on April 28, 2008


But it's criminal. At a time when we need to be encouraging people to get out of their cars, they raise the bus fare?

Well, fuel prices have gone way up, it's not too surprising that bus fares would (a quick search tells me that diesel is a big fuel for seattle buses, diesel recently hit an all-time high in the US). That increase is a small percent of what drivers have had to deal with, so it's still a bargain.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:17 PM on April 28, 2008


> In the next few months, they're going to be lowering the rates to $1.00 per trip.

Must be nice. Here in "Transit City" (ha!) we're paying $2.75 for a one-way ticket that doesn't allow you to get off (to, say, run a quick errand) at any point during your trip. Or $109 for a monthly pass, which is almost double what they pay in Montreal.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:19 PM on April 28, 2008


I walk to work. Suckers.
posted by tkchrist at 3:30 PM on April 28, 2008


A pregnant co-worker at my last job also moved out of the city, saying with a sneer, "I won't raise my child in a townhouse!"

Oh. Jeeze.

And here is the essence of the problem.
posted by tkchrist at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2008


I can walk, jog, cycle, or ride the bus or train to work. Anything from 10 to about 45 minutes.

Obviously, cycling is by far the quickest method.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:37 PM on April 28, 2008


Question for you: do you have a contingency plan if you're "downsized" and need to take a job further away from home? Do you plan to relocate if that happens? Do you have school-age children, and are you willing to pull them out of school if that happens?

Regardless of what the answers to these questions turn out to be, they really can't negate the practicality of the choice to live near your work. For one thing, people who DO maintain a long commute and get "downsized" will also have their share of problems - their choice to live far from where the jobs are does not save them any grief in this instance. If they are out of work for even a few weeks, that gas bill or commuter train bill to beat the streets, network and cultivate connections, and go to interviews will gradually drain finances -- while there's no income to offset it. They might find that their choice of a suburban location, far from centers of industry, makes it extremely difficult to find work locally -- thus the choice of housing actually continues to force the decision to commute. When you live right where some density of commercial or institutional activity is, you have many times the number of potential employers a short distance from your home than you do when you live in the burbs.

If I were to suddenly lose my job, I would immediately begin looking for jobs that are within a 5 or maybe 10-mile radius, and I wouldn't be racking up job-search-related commuting expenses or putting significant miles on my car in the meantime. My plan for sudden job loss includes first searching where I currently live, allowing a 10-mile radius or so but really giving preference to the same 2-ish-mile range I have for a commute today. If nothing great turned up in this area, I'd take whatever job would pay the bills in the interim while launching a new job search that involved relocation. But when making employment decisions, residence comes into play as it always has for me in the past. I turned down one great job because there was no affordable housing near enough to the workplace. Another I passed on because the cities or towns weren't interesting or convenient places to live. When I've accepted a job and begin the housing search, I look in the immediate vicinity of the job for the house. I've done two relocations that way and am happy with the results. I don't have kids, but as a person who moved four times growing up, I can say that it's not especially damaging to kids to move - if anything, it was good for my social skills, awareness of diversity, and probably helped to create my interest in different cultures and regions.

The thing is, when you really choose value for your time as a very high priority in your personal and professional life, you make it an important part of decision making and you weigh it in with other factors like salary, chance for advancement, kids' schooling, etc. I've had four major jobs in my adult years: at the first, I lived on the job site. At the second, I had a 12-mile commute through the city that invariably took 35-45 minutes. I vowed never to deal with that again. At the 3rd job, I had a 5-minute walk, and here, I have a 10-minute bike ride or drive, or a 30-minute walk. It's a damn serious quality of life issue. It's hard to describe what a difference in your life a short commute makes - but it really does. Time spent in transit to work is time you can't spend working out, being with your family, reading, cooking with real food, enjoying the outdoors, updating your resume, cleaning your house, wandering aimlessly downtown looking in the windows.
posted by Miko at 3:48 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well-planned, dense suburbs exist

And so do small cities like mine, which always seemed to get overlooked in the big city vs. suburb binary. Small cities can offer a lot of culture and employment while not placing as many stresses on people and systems as big cities do. They often have more open space and more outdoor space per building than the very high-density larger cities. For me, small cities are a very happy medium.
posted by Miko at 3:51 PM on April 28, 2008


Miko- Exactly. I live in Seattle proper, and I actually drive over to Bellevue, a 20 minute drive or so, and I'd say that is the maximum distance I'd drive for a job. I take the bus for free, but I currently have a gimpy toe, so I have to drive it and not stress out my toenailless big toe.

If I lost my job tomorrow, I could start applying for jobs in downtown seattle, a 10 minute walk from my apartment, and if it became a waiting game, I am within walking distance of tons of shops and retail stores where i can get a job to pay the bills in the interim.
posted by mrzarquon at 4:49 PM on April 28, 2008


Since housing prices in T.O. are still pretty nuts

Not even a little nuts. You get what you pay for in TO and as far as I'm concerned it's a ridiculous bargain. Vancouver is twice as expensive and even Calgary and Edmonton- yes Edmonton- are now more expensive than Toronto. And what's amazing is that when you tell Torontonians this, they refuse to believe it.

You have it good. Not Montreal good, but good.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:05 PM on April 28, 2008


It's still nuts. Less nuts than those other cities, perhaps. But still nuts.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:11 PM on April 28, 2008


I have a 10 minute drive to a bus that costs $16/day = (say)$4000/year to travel 26 miles to NYC, and I then walk to work (no subway).

The car(s) are a necessity in the dismal suburbs and also eat several thou per year (they are cheapies--total for 3 cars is <$22000, all bought new, with no major repairs in many years).

This is a major expense which I guess I try to make up for by not buying books. Yay the library
(5 minutes away by--wait for it--car).
posted by hexatron at 5:42 PM on April 28, 2008


Well, everyone seems to be bragging about their cheap commute. I drive, and it costs me about two dollars a day in gas. Less than subway fare. Less than the bus for most of you. Probably not less than the shoes for the walkers though. If I get a Prius, like my wife has, and they are awesome cars, but too small for my six foot plus frame, then you can cut that cost in half or so. However, half of two bucks is not nearly enough savings to buy a new efficient car when mine is only five years old. I drive a 6MT Accord by the way. I am lucky to live really close to work. I wish I could ride my bike, but the roads in between my house and work really suck for bikes, and then there is the whole showering at work thing. Anyway, living close to work, if you can swing it, is highly recommended. The coworker with whom I share a secretary, well she lives one mile away and gets to walk to work frequently. That is the greatest and I am jealous.
posted by caddis at 6:05 PM on April 28, 2008


All this will become immaterial once the Ginger project is launched...according to Steve Jobs, they'll re-architect whole cities around it.

What's that? It was released? A fucking Segway, you say?

We're doomed!
posted by cosmonik at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I drive, and it costs me about two dollars a day in gas. Less than subway fare. Less than the bus for most of you. Probably not less than the shoes for the walkers though.

No, but a typical driver will pay way more than most subway and bus riders when you factor in car payments and insurance.
posted by oaf at 7:56 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not just about gas. Edmunds makes available a method of calculation called "True Cost to Own" that gives you a much more realistic sense of how much it costs to drive. Drivers (like me) do tend to do all their calculations in gas. But it's not a fair comparison to public transportation unless you take a per-mile or per-month average of annual costs for fluids, tires, brakes, registration, insurance, replacement parts, and repairs.

On the other hand, when you own a car you have a degree of convenience and independence that is only available from shared/public transportation at a very high price - getting a ride to where you want, when you want costs a great deal if you don't own the conveyance. The tradeoff to the extremely low cost of using public transport is the loss of total control over your transportation schedule.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on April 28, 2008


Well, everyone seems to be bragging about their cheap commute.

not me. my commute is expensive and involves mass transit. the problem operative here being mass.
posted by krautland at 1:37 AM on April 29, 2008


I live in NYC, where you pay $2000 a month for a studio apartment, but $81 a month for all the local transportation you ever need, sweet! That means that on average, someone living in a small town in the midwest who pays $800 a month for an apartment or a house, but $1300 a month in associated gas and insurance and car payment costs is enjoying the same cost of living!
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:34 AM on April 29, 2008


I live in a small city (pop. 18.5K), and pay about $700 in mortgage for a small house with a small yard. My commute is 2.5 miles. I could walk or bike it, but I live across the river from work and have to go through a couple of traffic rotaries, and frankly doing that without a car scares me. Since I don't have kids, the only driving I do is for work, errands (they've turned this city into a "retail center" in the last 10 years so there's all kinds of stores), and boyfriend visiting (he also lives in town). I feel fortunate because I only have to fill the gas tank about every other week, and therefore I don't really notice gas prices at all. However, as noted above, if I got downsized or fired or whatever, I would have an impossible time getting a comparable job in this city, and would probably end up with anything from a 30-minute to 60-minute commute (there's no mass transit available). Or I'd have to move. It's definitely a fragile setup.
posted by JanetLand at 6:00 AM on April 29, 2008


Another walker here. In fact, when I purchased my flat in London's East End in 2001 (Postal Code E1, Zone 2, aka The Ghetto), it was only so I could walk to work. The location is roughly equidistant from both of London's financial districts.

Twenty minutes to The City, and about twenty five minutes to Canary Wharf (where I was most recently based). My walk to Canary Wharf runs alongside The Thames for the most; very, very relaxing.

If I'm off on business a taxi to City Island Airport costs (the firm) about twenty quid.

When I first moved to London I lived in Camden Town, NW1. Back then the Northern Line still had wood floors in the carriages, and after four years I'd had enough. Walking to work was one of my key considerations in the purchase.

I just have to say that London Underground does a magnificent job, considering the age of the system and number of people traveling. Things work well, most of the time. But when they go bad ... boy howdy do they go bad. And Tube strikes? Well, best not to talk about Tube strikes ...
posted by Mutant at 6:05 AM on April 29, 2008


Vienna, Austria datapoints:

It takes me between 30 and 45 minutes to reach work on public transportation. That number will drop on May 10 when the U2 subway line is extended near my office.

I pay €458 per year for a Jahreskarte, which lets me ride every form of public transportation in the greater Vienna area for a full year.

I don't own a car. I pay €100 per year for an ÖBB (Austrian Railways) advantage card, which gets me 50% off on train rides outside of Vienna.

I rent a recently renovated apartment in a nice district with excellent access to public transporation.

I spend between 1/6 and 1/5 of my net income on transportation and housing (including utilities).
posted by syzygy at 6:14 AM on April 29, 2008


I just have to say that London Underground does a magnificent job, considering the age of the system and number of people traveling.

the age and neglect are not something I am willing to chalk off under "oh well, that's just how it is" ... ken didn't invest squat in the system and when the tube was private, the owners didn't either. someone should have kept the infrastructure continuously updated. the showrunners deserve nothing but scorn for they have caused the current situation.
posted by krautland at 8:00 AM on April 29, 2008


ken didn't invest squat in the system

Ken didn't control London Underground until 2003. And even then, he still didn't control the maintenance and the kind of capital improvement that would improve reliability, since his hands were tied by a bad "public-private partnership" scheme that the central government set up, after he lost a lawsuit to prevent it. The blame should go to central governent—Labour since 1997 and especially Tory for almost two decades before.

LU is an excellent system. Except when it breaks. Which is frequently. But that's something that's going to require investment and decades to fix. I hope London gets it if people don't elect a bumbling idiot as Mayor this week.
posted by grouse at 8:27 AM on April 29, 2008


ken had multiple years to address the issue of tube breakdowns, which happen so frequently that by your own qualifier the tube can only be excellent between midnight and four a.m.

even when it's running, the chronic overcrowding should have been dealt with years ago. it hasn't even been attacked.
posted by krautland at 8:53 AM on April 29, 2008


ken had multiple years to address the issue of tube breakdowns

No, he hasn't had any time at all, since, over the strenuous objections of Ken Livingstone and Transport for London, the central government took away any power to deal with it, and gave it away to private corporations for 30 years. Since the private venture the central government placed in charge of two-thirds of the system mismanaged it so badly, it is now in administration and Livingstone is trying to get control of it. Looks like that might happen soon.

Regardless, the state of the system is such that it's going to take more than a couple of years to fix it. And that is because it has been neglected for decades, not years.

chronic overcrowding should have been dealt with years ago. it hasn't even been attacked.

It sure should have, but to say that it hasn't even been attacked is simply wrong. Crossrail has now been approved, as is the Thameslink Programme, and the East London Line Extension is under construction. All these things should help, and I believe that a big part of why they are happening is Ken Livingstone.
posted by grouse at 9:14 AM on April 29, 2008


krautland -- "...chronic overcrowding should have been dealt with years ago. it hasn't even been attacked.""

I agree that the system is at times overcrowded; I'm not really sure how that happened, but my own suspicion is almost nobody predicted how fast London in general and certain areas specifically would become heavily populated, overutilising the system (does anyone know for sure?)

That being said, when I first moved from New York it was shocking trying to get into The City (I work in banking) mornings along The Bank branch of the Northern Line. I was trying to board at Camden Town station. Sometimes I'd have to let three or more trains pass by as they were totally crowded, or couldn't even get into the station at all, sometimes for as long as thirty minutes at a time - too damn crowded. Amazingly frustrating, coming from New York (which has it's own transit problems, no system - not even walking - is perfect).

Then I got a little smarter - started walking to Kentish Town station in the AM. That helped, as I was on the train watching the crowd trying to get on at Camden Town. Great fun that. Got smarter still when I shifted my hours at work to avoid the crunch of the rush hour.

Smartest move of all was purchasing a flat in walking distance to both financial districts.

I'm on The Tube mostly for recreation these days - nights in The West End or gallery hopping, although a couple of times a week I have to head to Baker Street to teach at Uni. In any case, I try to keep my schedule flexible so I'm not overly stressed by the experience.

When things go well its a fantastic service considering the age, lack of investment and union hostility. But as I mentioned, it just seems to take one messed up train in the AM and the entire day - not only for the Underground but also for thousands of passengers - is totally shot.
posted by Mutant at 10:28 AM on April 29, 2008


When we were looking last year the cost of accessing work and facilities was in the top five of considerations. We really wanted a 5-40 acre place where we could raise a few chickens and have a large garden. Howver we ended up a couple blocks from one of the town centres on a 1/3rd of an acre because the cost of driving in from the country wasn't reflected in the price of acreages. Not even at then current gas prices let alone future projections. And it's not just the cost of going to work, most people will make at least one extra trip (either take both cars to work or go in on the weekend/in the evening) every week for shopping, appointments or leisure activities.

ethnomethodologist writes "Vancouver is twice as expensive and even Calgary and Edmonton- yes Edmonton- are now more expensive than Toronto. And what's amazing is that when you tell Torontonians this, they refuse to believe it."

Well housing is crashing in Calgary and Edmonton now so this will get better.
posted by Mitheral at 2:28 PM on April 29, 2008


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