Study of DC Region Shows Major Impact of Transportation Expenses on Household Budgets

WASHINGTON, DC (Aug. 3, 2011)–The DC Office of Planning (OP) in cooperation with the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) released H+T in DC: Housing + Transportation Affordability in Washington, DC, a report that investigates how neighborhood characteristics such as proximity to jobs and access to transit vary across the region and affect household transportation costs.

The study found that average household transportation costs across the region ranged from $8,500 to as much as $25,000 per year for a typical household. Actual costs can be even lower when the neighborhood enables the residents to live without owning a car.

“Everyone knows that the cost of housing varies across neighborhoods throughout the region,” says Harriet Tregoning, Director of the Office of Planning. “But fewer people recognize the extent to which transportation costs vary by location and affect real affordability.”

The DC study is based on CNT’s Housing + Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index, which uses US Census data to examine how neighborhood and household characteristics affect transportation costs such as car ownership and transit use. Since 2006, CNT has applied the H+T Index model to 337 U.S. metro regions. CNT will update the Index later this year using the most recent American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau.

For the DC study, OP worked with CNT to update regional data to reflect changes in housing costs and gas prices and improve the regional transit data and land use information. The Index holds household variables such as income and number of commuters constant to show how the built environment influences transportation costs. In doing so, the study highlights how land use planning decisions such as creating mixed-use developments and adding transit stops or streetcar lines would affect household transportation costs for a neighborhood.

The study fits into the goals of the Region Forward report by the Greater Washington 2050 Coalition of public, private and civic leaders. Region Forward sets a goal that average household housing and transportation cost in major job centers will not exceed 45 percent of the area median income.

“Our years of research show that transportation costs are a significant part of a household budget—sometimes exceeding housing expenses—and those costs vary significantly depending on where a person lives,” said Peter Haas, Chief Research Scientist for CNT. “Places that are ‘location efficient’, which offer multiple transportation options and access to amenities, tend to have low transportation costs. This helps residents be more economically resilient, and enables them to better weather economic adversity.”

“In the end, this is the big question,” says Harriet Tregoning. “How can we grow the region and become more resilient to economic ups and downs—whether it’s a credit crisis or volatile fuel prices? The Region Forward Coalition is working on this right now and this report, and the data behind it, will help inform the discussion.”

“We are at a critical time for the region,” says Dave Robertson, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “We need to address the market pressures around our transit stations that force low-income families away from transit and develop a regional plan to channel growth around our transit investments that creates complete communities.”

Download the report at

Linda Wharton Boyd (EOM)

Tanya Washington-Stern (OP)

Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology