Commute Cancels Savings on Outer Suburban Housing

Affordable housing not always worth transportation expense

WASHINGTON -- The outer suburbs of D.C. may offer less expensive housing, but transportation costs often make up the difference, according to the D.C. Examiner.

Those who live in outer Washington suburbs pay more on average for housing and transportation than those in inner suburbs, according to a report released Monday by a group that advocates workers living closer to their jobs. People often move farther out to find more affordable homes, but transportation costs typically offset those savings if families live 15 miles or more away from their jobs, according to the study by the Washington-based Urban Land Institute.

"When people look at housing, they seldom consider the transportation costs," said Pam Patenaude, executive director of the institute's Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing.

Households in Washington's inner suburbs pay on average $37,840 a year for housing and transportation, according to the report, while those who live farther out pay $39,553 annually.

Those in the center of the Washington region -- D.C., Alexandria and Arlington County -- pay the lowest on average at $29,718.

Regionwide, households spend almost 47 percent of their median household income on housing and transportation annually, with $23,000 going to housing and $13,000 on transportation.

The report looked at data from 2000 and 2006.

Many people look for homes or apartments on weekends when roads are less crowded, so they don't consider how much time they will spend stuck in traffic, Patenaude said. It also can be difficult for people to factor in the maintenance, gas and other costs of driving a car a longer distance each day.

The institute soon will offer an online calculator to help people estimate their transportation costs when planning where to live.

The report's authors are hoping their study can motivate policymakers to consider adding more affordable housing closer to mass transit.

Patenaude said her group is especially eyeing areas such as Tysons Corner, which is expected to have several Metrorail stops on the proposed Dulles rail line.

"We hope to have an impact on what is actually built there," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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