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'Affordable living' still elusive for many

Photo by John Luton

Two reports released in late March by MPC's partners show there's still more work to do before affordable living is truly within reach for most American families.

The Center for Housing Policy's annual Paycheck to Paycheck study estimated the median home price in Chicago fell from $225,000 in 2008 to $210,000 in 2009. Despite this drop, many working people still cannot afford to buy a home. Annual income needed to purchase a home was $62,686 at the end of 2009, according to the study, yet elementary school teachers earn an average wage of $55,376, police officers an average of $54,720, and licensed nurses $43,534.

Paycheck to Paycheck came out on Tuesday, the same day the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology released its expanded Housing + Transportation Affordability Index. The index is helping the federal government redefine affordability: While housing traditionally has been deemed "affordable" if it costs 30 percent or less of a household's income, the index factors in both housing and transportation costs associated with living in more than 300 U.S. metropolitan regions. MPC agrees this approach yields a much truer measure of affordable living, because housing and transportation consistently rank as the top two household expenses. (Further evidence: a recent NRDC study that found fewer foreclosures occur in communities where people can defray their transportation costs by using transit, walking and riding their bikes.)

Redefining affordability is one of the major goals of the Obama administration's Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is supporting more sustainable, economically competitive communities by coordinating policies and investments in housing, transportation, and the environment. In late 2009, MPC partnered with CNT, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and the Regional Transportation Authority on Advancing Livability Principles: Federal Investment Reform Lessons from the Chicagoland Experience. The report, delivered to top Cabinet officials including Ray LaHood, Ron Sims and Lisa Jackson, outlines our collective ideas for putting the Partnership's "livability principles" into action, through goal-oriented, right-sized, and coordinated investments and policies.

CNT's Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is among the models highlighted in that report. Employer-assisted housing also is featured: In metropolitan Chicago, more than 70 employers are helping employees bridge the gap to homeownership and live closer to work through employer-assisted housing (EAH). Employer assistance can leverage additional resources, including matching funds, and the employer can benefit from state tax credits which provide a credit of $.50 for each dollar invested in housing assistance for workers through an employer-assisted housing program.

The National Housing Conference, MPC, and other partners around the country have proposed including EAH incentives in the Livable Communities Act to engage business partners and support more affordable living for American families. Learn more about the role EAH is playing in connecting jobs, homes and transportation, and find out how you can voice your support for including EAH in the expanded Livable Communities Act.

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For 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area’s toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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