City Living vs. Commuting from the Suburbs

Many professionals working in the city are forced to look towards the suburbs in order to find affordable housing or to get more house for their dollar. This trend, however, comes at a price: the price of the commute.

In a recent study, to be released today, April 12th, by The Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing titled, “The Boston Regional Challenge,” the higher cost of housing in the city is compared to the reduced cost of living in the suburbs combined with the cost of making the commute into the city for work.

“[The study] is not a manifesto for abandoning exurbs and returning to cities and inner suburbs,” says Globe Staff Writer Eric Moskowitz, “Rather, it is intended as a guide for officials, developers, home-buyers, and renters to the costs of transportation in 323 communities in Eastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, and much of Rhode Island.” The results of the study, however, suggest otherwise…

The study is the first to combine the quantification of commuting costs with the price of daily transportation around the suburbs, for example, “the average household spends more each year in Dracut ($35,643) than in Cambridge ($28,671), and more in Stoughton ($37,513) than in Brookline ($36,846).” These numbers produce a simple equation: Cost of Suburbian Living+Cost of Commuting>Cost of City Living

The study found that the average household in the suburbs spends $22,373 on traditional housing costs and and $11,927 on transportation for a grand total of $34,000, which translates to 54% of the median household income for the region. The cost of commuting was calculated with a variety of factors including car payments, gasoline, T-passes, and bike repairs. The study furthers the argument, claiming that one in every four Greater Boston suburbs has a combined housing and transportation cost that exceeds 58% of median household income, which the report defines as an extreme burden.

So should all professionals working in the city give up their larger houses, quiet streets, and big backyards for a condo downtown? Not exactly.

“The report bolsters those who have championed ride-sharing programs in areas that lack public transportation and encouraged people to consider what they could save by carpooling,” Moskowitz reports. “[People] should think about what the cost is to them financially, the cost to the environment, the cost to their personal well-being and savings, and the cost to their family time, their work-life balance, because those are all key elements of a healthy life,’’ says Andrea Leary, a transportation consultant.

The average Boston resident spends a relatively large amount of their household income on their housing, 41%, however when combined with their relatively low transportation costs, 15%, the average burden comes out to 56%, a number that indicates city living is often equal to or less expensive than life commuting from the suburbs.

Mayor Menino, who will be making an appearance at Faneuil Hall today for the release of the study, said that his administration has encouraged affordable and middle-income housing around transit stops, citing mixed-use developments Ashmont and Jackson Square MBTA stations as examples.

For the full Globe article, click here.

For the full ULI report, click here.

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