Those who are familiar with the price premiums attached to places with high walkability and associated amenities may be surprised by the findings of Christopher Leinberger and Michael Rodriguez of George Washington University.
The authors of the recent report Foot Traffic Ahead published a piece in The Washington Post explaining why moderate-income households end up spending less of their hard-earned money when living in highly desirable walkable urban places.
First, metro areas with higher Walk Scores tend to generate higher incomes, helping to offset higher housing costs. …
“Moderate-income households in the most walkable urban metros, such as Washington and San Francisco, spend more on housing than moderate-income households in the most drivable metro areas, such as Las Vegas and Tampa. But the difference is less than 1 percent of income for housing (41.5 percent in walkable metros vs. 40.9 percent in drivable metros).
Second, lower transportation costs more than make up for the small difference in income spent on housing.
“Moderate-income households in drivable metros spend 29 percent of income on transportation, because of the high cost of car ownership. In metro Washington, moderate-income households only spend 17 percent of income on transportation, primarily because of our transit system,” they write. Foot Traffic Ahead examines the 30 largest metro areas in the US.
Yet making places more walkable places does not solve the problem. Housing should be closer to 30 percent of income, even for moderate income households, Leinberger and Rodriguez say. “Overall, walkable urban places are the most socially equitable. But the rent is still too damn high.”
We can provide more attainable housing in places that are walkable. That can be accomplished through policy and increasing supply. Increasing transit in a metro area is one way to boost the supply.
In Vancouver Metro (as in most places), we rarely make the link between more transit and housing affordability. The latter may be the most discussed topic in the region, but transit expansion has dropped off the table (save for funding the major rail projects) because of the referendum.
The Province is now desperate to address affordability (mainly by putting pressure on the municipalities to increase supply) but makes no effort to move forward with any other transportation projects than major roads and bridges (which will arguably reduce affordability when both H + T are calculated together.)
Once again, both the foresight of the regional vision (“Cities in a Sea of Green”) and its abandonment largely go without comment. Yet there is no other vision that could serve us as well to address the most urgent problems of the moment.