Boston Regional Challenge: Finding the Hidden Costs of Place

boston-regional-challengeToday, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing, released Boston Regional Challenge, which finds that the average working household in the Boston region spends over $34,000 a year – or 54 percent of their income – on the combined costs of housing and transportation.

The report, produced in partnership with the Center for Housing Policy (CHP) and CNT, provides a comprehensive analysis of the “cost of place” in 18 regions from southern New Hampshire to Worcester to Rhode Island by quantifying the burdens facing families in those regions to meet the number one and number two expenses – housing and transportation – and highlighting areas with extreme burdens where households spend more than 58% their income on these costs.

The combined costs of housing and transportation vary among the 18 regions examined, ranging from 48 percent of household income in MetroWest to 62 percent in the South Coast. The report finds that one in four households in the study area are located in neighborhoods in which there are extreme cost burdens. In Boston, the cost is 56 percent, due in part to the City’s extensive public transportation system. In fact, Boston had the lowest transportation cost of all the regions studied in the report.

“Within the Boston region, there are pockets where housing is affordable but transportation offsets those lower costs. Many people in the workforce—teachers, nurses, office workers—are forced to spend precious time and money commuting from the homes they can afford to the places where they work,” said ULI Terwilliger Center Chairman J. Ronald Terwilliger. “These findings reinforce that years of ever-sprawling development have resulted in a growing gap between where people live and where they work.” Terwilliger, Chairman Emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential, founded the Center in 2007 to help achieve a measurable increase in the supply of workforce housing in high-cost markets throughout the nation.

CNT’s Scott Bernstein joined J. Ronald Terwilliger, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and New England Regional HUD Director Richard Walega at the April 12 press conference in the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall to announce the report and its companion Web site, In addition, they unveiled a new online Cost Calculator that families can use to accurately determine their combined housing and transportation costs based on where they live, where they work and how they commute.

“No longer will the true cost of a house be hidden in the Boston Area,” says Scott Bernstein, CNT President. “This calculator gives consumers an insurance policy against the rising and chaotic costs for transportation and fuel. It will help home seekers, both owners and renters, know what it’s worth to take advantage of the region’s mass transportation and local amenities, and in the process, avoid locations that are too financially risky.”

And the implications are not unique to just the Boston region. The findings show that whenever housing is not efficiently located to jobs, stores, schools and other amenities, household transportation expenses soar above the recommended 18% of one’s income. CNT’s Housing + Transportation Affordability Index currently displays this trend for over 80% of the population – 337 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

The release of the report was in conjunction with the ULI Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum this week in Boston. The need to build workforce housing closer to employment centers is among many issues being discussed as part of ULI’s overall efforts to promote sustainable communities.