Planner Speak: So what do you mean by affordable housing?

If I can pay my rent or mortgage, then my home is affordable, right? What does it mean to have affordable housing, and how do I know if I’m paying the “right” amount for my housing? 

Affordable housing (n.) is a place to live where you can spend 45 percent of your household income or less on your housing and transportation. Household income is the money that people who live together in a home receive.

Habitat-house

In the past, when planners looked at housing in a community to see if it was affordable, they did not consider the cost of getting around. Planners used to think that housing was affordable if people could spend 30 percent of their income or less on their housing. Now, planners have started to realize that transportation costs affect whether or not a home is affordable. For example, you may spend less than 30 percent of your income on your housing, but if your home is two hours from your work, and you have no choice but to drive by yourself to get to work, you might spend more than 45 percent of your income on your housing and transportation costs. That means you will have less money for other things like food, clothing, and medical care.

The location of a home and the multimodal transportation options available in the area affect whether or not the home is affordable. If your job and shops are near your home, you won’t have to travel as far to reach the things you need on a daily basis. If it is easy and convenient for you to walk, bike, ride a bus or a train, or carpool, you won’t have to spend as much money as you would if you had to drive by yourself. Having the things you need close to your home and having cheaper ways of getting around mean that you can spend less money on transportation.

Below are two maps showing affordable housing in Hamilton County and the surrounding area based on two different definitions. In the map on the left, the areas in yellow are considered affordable if you only look at housing costs. In the yellow areas, people typically spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing.  In the blue areas, people typically spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

In the map on the right, the areas in yellow also represent affordable housing, but this map also looks at transportation costs. In the yellow areas, people typically spend less than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation. In the blue areas, people typically spend more than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation. As you can see, far fewer areas in Hamilton County are affordable when you include the cost of both housing and transportation. You can check out the map to see how our area compares to other areas or click the arrow to the right of the legend to look at more detailed information.

H+T index

In 2013, the Regional Planning Agency completed a Housing Study for Chattanooga. You can read more about affordable housing on page 35 – 40 of the study and strategies for making housing more affordable on page 46.  

Now that you know what we mean by affordable housing, tell us, is your housing affordable?

Comments

  1. Brad McCormick says

    Interesting! I hadn’t considered transportation costs when thinking about affordable housing before.

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