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"Response to PRRAC Critique of CNT’s Housing + Transportation Affordability Index"

January/February 2011 issue of Poverty & Race

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) appreciates the opportunity to respond to a recent [July/Aug. 2010 P&R, p.13] critique of our Housing + Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index ( as a tool for siting affordable housing.

The H+T Index was created to reveal the inadequacy of current definitions of affordability and the unsustainable sprawl it has created. Conventional wisdom maintains that housing costs should not exceed 30% of household income. Our tool expands affordability to include transportation costs—the second largest expense for American households—and asserts that combined housing and transportation costs should not exceed 45% of household income. By this measure, affordability drops from 7 in 10 neighborhoods in U.S. metro areas to only 4 in 10 neighborhoods.

CNT agrees with the referenced Furman Center proposal that fair housing resources should be targeted to neighborhoods that provide walkability, transit options and access to opportunity. But affordable housing locations should increase opportunity without increasing costs. The H+T Index would help make that happen.

Although CNT supports the Furman Center’s proposal, we would modify their definitions of opportunity and sustainability. Placing a 5-mile limit on work commutes and calling it opportunity is not realistic. A better metric combines distance to jobs and their accessibility by multiple modes of transportation. Likewise, walkability and transit access alone do not define sustainability. The H+T Index demonstrates that density, local amenities and job access also lower household transportation costs and are thus more economically and environmentally sustainable.

CNT agrees that affordable housing locations should factor in fair housing policies and practices, along with robust indicators of economic opportunity and school quality. But given that the primary measure of affordability inadequately captures the full costs of housing location, we urge developers of affordable housing to use the H+T Index to make sure such housing comes with opportunity and affordable transportation.

Scott Bernstein, President (
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Chicago, Illinois

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