In March 2009, the Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development issued a joint press release announcing a new interagency partnership and task force to create "affordable, sustainable communities." Among the several projects this partnership and its task forces will take on is the development of a new cost index that combines housing and transportation costs by "redefining affordability and making it transparent."
Efforts to "redefine" and "make transparent" housing and transportation costs have been the subject of a growing debate over the past decade as opposing sides of the cities versus suburbs debate and the cars versus trolleys debate have offered up conflicting data on the relative costs of these choices. How the new DOT/HUD partnership will address these issues and competing contentions is unknown, but many recent state and local trends on these issues suggest a narrowing of opportunity for the average household is the chief risk.
The recent jump in gasoline prices has heightened interest in these issues as Americans have cut back on their driving, while transit has captured at most about 3 percent of this decline. Some wonder if these Hummer-loving, McMansion-living families are finally getting what's coming to them. And will they all come crawling back to the city to live in apartments and bicycle to work?
Many issues have been raised as the call increases for policy intercession, which basically take offense at the public's choices:
- The public spends too much on transportation.
- The low-income population is "transportation poor."
- The transportation trade-off with housing costs has created losses for households.
- The sprawling of jobs to the suburbs is a problem that needs to be solved.
Do these things happen because the public is coerced by circumstances, or are they just making really dumb choices? Somehow the sense is that these mistaken choices can be resolved by everyone coming back to the cities and the jobs returning with them.
This presentation works its way through the morass of conflicting claims and provides some factual outlines for a sensible policy structure. The presentation focuses in particular on two issues in this debate: 1) The transportation-housing trade-offs of suburban, urban, and rural living, and 2) the massive importance of access to skilled workers in our future economy.