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
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
Many issues have been raised as the call increases for policy
intercession, which basically take offense at the public's
- 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
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
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.