The High Cost of Living (And This Doesn’t Include Groceries, Clothing, Health Insurance, Emergency Expenses …)

Maywood LAI Map

By Michael Romain

According to Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for many working families, transportation costs now “approach or exceed” housing costs, but the current federal definitions of housing affordability have yet to take into account how the two are so closely interrelated. A new online portal developed through a collaboration between HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now allows people to understand the relationship between housing costs and transportation costs in an intimate way.

The following chart breaks down Maywood’s housing and transit cost characteristics in calculating the Village’s Location Affordability Index (LAI):

Maywood's Location Affordability Index by the Numbers

According to the site, “Housing costs for any household type in a given location represent what a particular household would be expected to pay for housing IF they had lived in that location in 2010.”

Income, housing and commuter data are based on median household income, average household size and the number of commuters per household for the region selected.

For a more detailed picture, I plugged into the Transportation Cost Calculator some more averages for a Maywood address I selected at random (901 S. 9th Avenue). My average Maywood household brings in $60,574 in annual income, owns the house it lives in, comprises a family of three (two adults and a teenager) and owns two vehicles.

According to the LAI model, the “average housing ownership costs in this neighborhood for households with your profile [see chart on the side] would be $1,612 per month.” This figure includes the costs of the mortgage, “taxes, insurance, utilities and condominium fees.”

My imaginary household owns two vehicles (let them be two 2013 Honda Accords = approx. 29 MPG) and pays $308 a month to service those vehicles. The number of vehicles and the amount of monthly service are based on the LAI model estimates for average vehicle ownership in Maywood (which I simply rounded up from 1.6) and the monthly ownership costs of those vehicles. My imaginary family pays an imaginary (but hardly unrealistic) price of about $3.49 per gallon for gas (based on this map of Chicagoland gas prices). And each car gets about 800 miles a month–a figure based on the LAI’s model estimate for average driving in the neighborhood for households with my profile. I also factored into the equation the imaginary teenager’s monthly transit costs (for taking the bus to and from Proviso East), which the LAI estimates to be about $22/month (an average based on “the estimate that 8% of households similar to yours would commute by transit while the rest use other means”). After all of these costs are accounted for, this is what my imaginary Maywood household’s LAI looks like:

Imaginary Maywood Family's Location Affordability Index

So, my imaginary household at 901 S. 9th Ave., comprising a home-owning married couple with a teenage child (who takes the bus to school) two cars and an income of $60,574, pays more than $30,000 a year (the equivalent of a beginning teacher’s salary) in housing and transportation costs, nearly half of their income. And this isn’t taking into account savings (assuming my imaginary family has enough left over after grocery, health insurance, emergency and other expenses).

And to imagine, for some Maywood families, the housing/transportation costs as a percentage of income may be even higher. If anything, what this exercise in living expenses illustrates is that distance and geography–to and from home, work, school and play–matters a lot more than we consciously think.

This exercise also starkly reminds us that the longer we forego redeveloping and redefining Maywood’s built environment, especially its downtown, in a way that promotes smarter, more efficient, more economical and sustainable living–the emptier our pockets become. VFP

To calculate your own household’s LAI, click here.

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