For every $1 increase in income, housing and transportation costs rose $1.75. In total, a family with a moderate income (defined as 50 to 100 percent of area median income) spends nearly 60 percent of household income on just those two categories.
According to a new study from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Housing Policy, the costs for housing and transportation have risen 44 percent since 2000 in the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas.
The report finds cost burdens to be highest in the Miami area, where moderate-income households spend 72 percent of their income on housing and transportation. The next highest burdens are in the Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., area (69 percent), the Tampa area (66 percent), and the Los Angeles area (65 percent).
It’s tough to be part of the middle class in America today.
“If we really want to understand whether housing is affordable, we need to consider housing and transportation costs together,” explains Center for Housing Policy Executive Director Jeffrey Lubell. “Along with utilities, which we include within housing costs, these are the true ‘costs of place,’ and our report shows they have grown much faster than incomes since 2000.”
Spending nearly 60 percent of income on “cost of place” means there is very little left in the paycheck for other necessities of life, such as food, education, child care and healthcare.
While housing prices have dropped substantially and mortgage interest rates are at the lowest levels in nearly 50 years, most of this segment of the population rents, rather than owns, their home. As more homeowners have fallen into foreclosure, completed a short sale or abandoned properties that are significantly underwater, they have turned to renting a home, driving up prices.
“Increased demand for rental housing combined with insufficient new production has raised rents, while households with blemished credit and existing homeowners with underwater mortgages have been unable to take advantage of lower home prices,” Lubell added. “Add in the higher transportation costs associated with higher gas prices, stagnant or slowly growing wages and the loss of income associated with layoffs and it’s easy to see how Americans have lost ground.”
It is difficult to underestimate the cost of having such a large segment of the population be burdened by housing and transportation cost. If you’re strapped by the cost of subway tokens and rent, it’s tough to find money to spend on other consumer goods, such as clothes, books, and CDs, restaurant meals or concert tickets.
That’s why most Americans don’t believe they are better off than four years ago. When you live life on the edge of affordability, it’s tough to feel safe.