Skosey: True tab for dream home includes transportation costs

Peter Skosey, Metropolitan Planning CouncilWhen most people shop for a home, their minds are on financing and floor plans, not the details of their daily commute. They’ll look up the local school system’s report card, but they probably won’t test drive the area roads at rush hour. Many will value a garage or indoor parking spot, but never consider that the bottom-line cost of their new home includes what they’ll spend driving to and from work, the grocery store, and soccer practice every year.

The reality is each rush-hour driver in Chicagoland loses nearly $1,700 a year while sitting in traffic, according to a new report from the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council. Rising gas prices snag the headlines, but wasted time accounts for almost $1,600 of the price tag.

Homeowners who look beyond the picket fence – and down their driveway – can see growing gridlock means more time, fuel and, ultimately, money out of their pockets. For the first time in modern society, transportation and housing are neck-and-neck for the top two household expenses.

As would-be buyers add up the true tab for their dream home – including the cost of getting to and from it – these startling numbers are increasingly difficult to ignore.

So are the intangible costs associated with congestion across the region, where drivers waste 66 extra minutes each week in traffic jams. What would you do with an extra hour each week?

Maybe you’d make your doctor happy and get some exercise – tough to do behind the wheel. (Exercising your finger muscles does not count.)

Perhaps you’d spend more time helping your kid with that pesky math homework: If a car traveling at 45 miles per hour leaves Point A at 7 a.m., when it will arrive at its destination 30 miles away?

If you weren’t so busy fighting traffic, maybe you’d have time to volunteer in the community – or, even closer to home, fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen.

This is the stuff of life, difficult to measure in dollars and cents, but important no matter where we call home.

High gas prices have led to sharp declines in the value of homes in distant suburbs, while homes in inner-ring suburbs and city neighborhoods have fared much better, according to a recent report from CEOs for Cities. In response, consumers are demanding the housing market supply more homes in pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly neighborhoods near transit.

Meanwhile, Web tools, such as the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing & Transportation Affordability Index, are popping up to help homebuyers make educated choices about where they live based on both the value of their home and transportation costs.

Individuals and communities can make a difference not only through their housing investments, but also by encouraging their local, state and federal representatives to vote for policies that support more affordable homes near job centers and transit, and accessible neighborhood streets that include a mix of shops, public spaces, bike lanes and inviting sidewalks.

To learn more about these policies and practices, visit Metropolitan Planning Council’s Web site.

Peter Skosey is vice president of external relations for the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit civic group that advocates sustainable urban development policies.

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