My apartment's real cost

Hubby and I live in a mid-grade rental apartment in a newly-nice neighborhood very close to downtown D.C. We both walk to work. (Washington, D.C. has one of the highest rates of pedestrian commuters in the country.) We don’t own a car. Most people who don’t live in New York or Los Angeles think we pay a lot for our little space.

But we don’t.

I’ve said it before: it’s worth a premium to live where a car’s more a hindrance than a help. And Treehugger again today “How Affordable is that Subdivision, Really?” makes the point that the cost of housing shouldn’t be divorced from transportation.

The chilling factoid was a bit from a 2003 Brookings study that says that the median household spends 19.1% of its income on transportation and, guessing by the gaspump agita of late, I would easily believe it’s higher today.

Using the Housing+Transportation Affordability Index, you can see what parts of many US metropolitan areas are afforable, as defined by housing and transportation costs being less than 45% of average household income. An advanced option gives a more granular visualization of the data.

Because Hubby and I both work, opted against splashy digs, walk most places and use bus for weekend outings, I estimate I only put out 17% of my income on housing and transportation.

More Americans deserve this option. Remember this the next time you talk up how nice it would be to have more space (if you do this) for storage, or talk down (if you do this) commuter buses or an extension of a transit system.

P.s. I think a good distributed task for Unitarian Universalists is to collect information about which congregations are transit-accessible and how.

4 Replies to “My apartment's real cost”

  1. It also helps not to have children. Makes it much easier to get by in a smaller place (one or two bedroom, maybe even a studio), and more time to spend walking/on public transit, etc.

  2. But even with a 2 bedroom apartment, a family can have 1 or 2 children. This was once common, with brothers or sisters sharing a room until the elder left for college/work/marriage (the 2 child option works best if you are lucky enough for them to be the same gender). I think we sometimes have inflated views of what children normally need. My Dad and his 2 sisters grew up in a two bedroom carpenter house in Detroit. My grandparents had their bedroom. The 2 sisters shared one bedroom. My grandfather converted the 6′ x 10′ storage room off the kitchen into my father’s bedroom (this did mean, however, that grandma did not have a pantry or broom closet, and only a small set of cabinets next to the sink). She stored her cast iron cookware in the oven when it was not in use. The broom and mop were hidden in the hallway coat closet.

    My apartment has a second bedroom which could be used for a child. For family’s with children, things to consider include…

    (1) is there a public park or playscape within walking distance of your apartment/home

    (2) can your children walk to school, use a schoolbus, or public bus; and are you willing to teach them how to safely use public transportation

    (3) do not assume that suburban schools are automatically of higher quality. Check them out to make sure what you are getting.

    In my present case the answer to #1 is yes. With regards to #2, children with school i.d. cards ride the city bus system for free. If I had a child, the ride to school would also require no bus transfers. And I don’t live in DC or New York, but in a small mid-Western city. With regards to #3, if I had children I’d be quite pleased with the local public elementary school and high school; but might think about the local Catholic school for junior high (the neighborhood junior high school has some problems).

  3. When we moved, David’s #1 requirement was commute. He now works much closer to his job. I’ve gotten farther away from mine, but the difference is more than made up by being permitted to work from home two days a week. It definitely saves on gas and wear and tear on me, the car, and the roads!

  4. Thanks for the link! Very interesting. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that almost all of the places that are actually affordable are either inner cities or inner suburbs. Of course, I find it difficult to imagine why people would want to live further out unless they were really committed to rural living but I suppose that is a different story.

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