Redefining Affordability: Better Decisions, Engagement with the H+T Affordability Index

High transportation costs make many good neighborhoods unaffordable for families – but strong public transportation systems can reduce those expenses and contribute to vibrant communities according to experts on a recent webinar.

One key tool that local planners can use encourage more affordable communities is the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s H+T Affordability Index. The Index provides a more comprehensive insight into true affordability, packaged in an easy-to-use format based on innovative data analysis. Traditional affordability is measured by how much a household spends on housing, and does not include transportation costs in the equation. The H+T Index brings transportation costs into the fold, and effects on affordability are stunning.

The index shows how traditional affordability differs from H+T affordability, especially rural locations with low-cost housing but high transportation costs. A quick look of the Grand Rapids area with the Index shows this. Yellow areas are considered affordable, and blue areas are not.

Housing and Transportation

H+T Affordability based on housing and transportation costs.

Just Housing

Traditional Affordability based on housing costs alone.

By incorporating transportation costs into affordability, many regions are unaffordable because long distances to jobs and amenities require higher transportation costs. The Index clearly illustrates the need for public transportation, compact growth, and walkable communities. Below are some ways planners can use the Index and its data:

Kent County Graphic

The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Hunger used H+T data to show many in the Grand Rapids region spend more on transportation than what is considered to be affordable.

Public Outreach: The H+T Index provides planners with a strong public outreach tool to educate and engage citizens and decision-makers on ways sound land-use planning increases affordability. The Index lends itself to infographics, charts, and other visuals promoting location efficiency, and is backed up by a robust dataset that enables further local, regional, and state comparisons. For example, the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness used H+T maps and visuals (pp. 20-25) in its Housing and Transportation Study to highlight large swaths of unaffordable housing in the west-Michigan region.

Project Selection and Policy: Planners can use H+T data to better inform project selection, especially for those working on State Transportation Improvement Program projects. Affordability can be a selection criteria for projects, which the City of El Paso, TX has adopted for all funding and policy decisions.  Similar benefits of H+T data are found for planners making policy decisions. The Washtenaw Area Transportation Study is using H+T data to push for more public transit, a policy priority.

DC Train

Infographic from the Washington DC Council of Governments displaying one if their long-term goals based on H+T data.

Goals and Performance Targets: Metrics can be refined with H+T data, and many planners and cities are already taking advantage. The webinar put an emphasis on planners incorporating H+T data into  performance targets, which can supplement or go above performance measures required by MAP-21. The Washington D.C. Council of Governments used H+T data in one of its Accessibility Targets, and Ashville, N.C. is using H+T data to meet its goal of encouraging growth in location inefficient areas.

Funding: Projects using H+T data are attractive to potential funders because they use higher quality data. In competitive situations such as Transportation Alternative Program grants, a better analysis could increase the likelihood of getting funding

For a full listing of advantages the H+T Index can provide to planners, visit the H+T Toolkit.

Want to see how transportation affects your individual affordability? Check out the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Abogo tool, which allows you to see how much you spend on transportation and more.

By Jeff Prygoski, Trans4M Fellow

One Comment on “Redefining Affordability: Better Decisions, Engagement with the H+T Affordability Index

  1. Pingback: CNT Press Mentions November 2013 : Center for Neighborhood Technology

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