Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Affordable Housing Indicators

Housing prices have been skyrocketing, far exceeding growth in median household income or average annual wage, and affordable housing has become a key priority for many communities. Finding a good indicator to express the complexity of the problem in affordable housing has been difficult.

The Brookings Institution's Urban Markets Initiative has developed The Affordability Index for certain metro areas that tries to combine the cost of transportation with the geographic location of housing. The formula is [(Housing Costs + Modeled Transportation Costs)/Income]. For areas where infill development and gentrification have pushed affordable housing farther and farther away from job centers, the index does a pretty good job of capturing the cost difference of housing near work v. far away.

A number of housing data clearinghouses, like The Shimberg Center in Florida or DataPlace nationwide, provide a great deal of useful data and information about housing. Don't forget to check out the national Affordable Housing Resource Center. I look to the Florida Association of Realtors for housing sales data in Florida, as well as interesting national comparatives.

But the debate over what affordable housing is has been shifting. We're starting to hear more people talk about "workforce housing" as well as or instead of "affordable housing", and shifting the focus of public policy and debate. A recent article (March 17) in the Sun-Herald in Charlotte, Florida, discussed a North Port housing study:

For the purpose of the study, planners identified three types of housing -- affordable, workforce and market.

Affordable is defined as housing for those earning less than 80 percent (of median area income) or $46,720. There are also three affordable housing types -- extremely low, very low and low.

Workforce housing is defined as affordable for housing for those making between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income, or between $46,720 and $70,080.

The last category is market, which is deemed housing affordable to those earning 120 percent or more of the area median income -- $58,400 is median income for the area, so that's the number we used. Most state agencies say households should not pay more that 33 percent of their income for rent, utilities and mortgage.

Those categories -- affordable, workforce, and market -- are still measured by the ratio of household income to housing cost -- purchase or rental price. But a few new variables are starting to impact heavily the notion of housing affordability.

The rise in the number of households using sub-prime lenders for conventional home purchase loans creates housing affordability problems that aren't necessarily reflecting in the purchase price of the homes. Post-Katrina (and in Florida, post-2004), the rise in the cost of homeowner's insurance also impacts housing affordability. Florida is also debating at the state level some measure of property tax relief, because property taxes also impact affordability. Utility costs have been increasing, but aren't often included in housing affordability discussions.

Census Bureau reports aren't current, but provide useful background information. The Census also provides monthly mortgage costs as a percentage of household income, and gross rent costs as a percentage of household income. The American Community Survey provides data on the percentage of the population that is housing cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing (rent, mortgage, or owners without a mortgage).

These options measure the housed, however. And it is still difficult to extract from the indicators some sense of how many households need housing more affordable than they currently have.

Are there better ideas/data sources for measuring housing affordability?

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine wrote an interesting essay in which he discussed our rising standards for suitable housing vs. affordable housing. The place my family lived in before I moved here with my children would not have met the standards for housing assistance here; too many people for the 2 bedrooms. It was crowded and I wouldn't want to go back to it, but we did have housing that kept us safe and dry, and we were able to afford it without assistance even on our pathetic incomes.