Fuel, housing costs underscore public transportation access at affordable housing

BY Sunday, May 22, 2022 06:08pm

Historically high housing and fuel prices have made access to public transportation an increasingly important piece to developing much-needed affordable housing. 

The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the United States was $1,295 as of February, up from $1,100 a year ago, according to the website Statista. And transportation costs tend to make up the second-largest expense for the average household after housing costs.

From left to right: Yarrow Brown, Ryan Kilpatrick, Ryan VerWys

As Grand Rapids home prices and rents steadily increase, buyers and renters are increasingly driven to the suburbs where housing tends to be cheaper but transportation costs grow, said Ryan VerWys, president and CEO of Grand Rapids-based housing nonprofit Inner City Christian Federation.

“Those suburbs weren’t built around public transportation. They were built right as America was falling in love with the automobile,” VerWys said. 

Meanwhile, drivers in communities that lack reliable public transportation are paying the price more than ever this year at the gas pump. Fuel prices in the U.S. have broken record highs this year as demand grows and the war in Ukraine continues. Prices reached an all-time high on May 10 when the national average price of gas was $4.36 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.

Low-income families that moved to the suburbs to find cheaper housing are now being hit with a “triple whammy” from rising fuel prices, inflation on consumer goods, and rising home prices and rents, VerWys said.

In Northern Michigan, transportation costs are among the highest in the state, said Yarrow Brown, executive director of Housing North

The Traverse City-based housing nonprofit often references the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, which shows the percentage of a household’s annual income that goes toward housing and transportation. 

According to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, rural households on average spent 20 percent of their income on transportation in 2020. The Housing and Transportation Affordability Index shows Traverse City residents spend an average of 24 percent of their income on transportation.

“We always want to make sure transportation groups are involved in development conversations, because too often developments are built that buses can’t pull into,” Brown said. “We have a culture that is so car-centric, but as our population grows, that should be part of what we consider: Trying to encourage people to use public transportation more.”

When planning a project, ICCF — which focuses on building subsidized and affordable housing — considers properties that are close to amenities such as schools, stores, hospitals and public transportation, VerWys said. Housing projects planned near these amenities also are prioritized by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority when it awards Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program funding.

MSHDA’s policy that prioritizes projects close to public transportation and amenities has influenced developers seeking to acquire sites for new affordable housing developments, said Ryan Kilpatrick, executive director of West Michigan housing nonprofit Housing Next.

“Honestly, I think it’s gotten developers and property managers thinking more about how their residents get around in the community,” Kilpatrick said.

Kilpatrick sees an ongoing need to connect housing and transportation affordability instead of the two issues being considered in silos.

“Culturally, the fact that we drive everywhere is so ingrained that it’s hard to get decision makers to think about things from the perspective of someone who does not drive everywhere,” Kilpatrick said.

Read 1012 times Last modified on Friday, 20 May 2022 16:14