Ok, they didn’t present it that way, but a study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology out of Chicago and the Center for Housing Policy down in DC puts Philadelphia 2nd out of the 25 largest metro areas for affordability based on the combined costs of housing and transportation. As in, we are the second MOST affordable. We want to make that very clear as the Inquirer article on the subject doesn’t quite ever decide whether the news is good or bad, simultaneously highlighting the development patterns that make us affordable but then saying that people feel squeezed.
The report does have two sides to it. The overall gist is that costs are actually continuing to outpace incomes – pretty much everywhere – and that is not so great. But what it ALSO shows is that housing costs and transportation costs do not always track with income, that is to say, they are not a reliable indicator of how much people make in a given area. Looking at the charts, people make more here relative to these costs than do many of our peer cities. More importantly, only those in DC spend less of their incomes on housing and transportation (this factoid shocks us, frankly, given what we know about rents in DC, but given that this is a regional view, we’ll assume they know something we don’t).
To stem the rising costs, the study says pretty much what we always whine about: we need to locate housing close to jobs, particularly affordable or mixed-income housing so that those more sensitive to price fluctuations have choices. It also calls for what they call location-efficient housing, which is a great way of expressing mixed-use and transit-oriented development patterns. If you live in a location-efficient place, you’re able to access what you need more quickly/cheaply/etc. The good news in all this is that Philadelphia – we’ll limit our comments to the city itself, given the nature of our office – is very well positioned, as we discussed yesterday. More than 50% of the city’s jobs exist in a transit accessible core, with other major job centers along transit routes (or almost…c’mon Broad Street Subway extension). We’ve got land for days, with lots of options for infill and greater density in the places that allow people to maximize their location efficiency and minimize their transportation costs. Also, our prevailing housing typologies – attached and multi-family – are pretty gosh-darn cost-effective from an energy standpoint, particularly new construction or retrofits.
What does all this mean? Well, it doesn’t address many of the other factors that influence housing choice, but it COULD mean that Philadelphia will increasingly be seen as more competitive as certain regions’ costs continue to outpace incomes and more people base location decisions on a quality of life equation that factors transportation in with the housing (we could spend a whole other post remaking on how crazy it is to us that people so often ignore this, but we need to drink some more snark juice before launching into that).