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Chicago modeling livable communities

This letter ran 4/13/2010 in the Chicago Tribune

For years, we’ve known that many local workers – the proverbial teachers, nurses and firefighters, plus dozens of other professionals – cannot afford to purchase a home in metropolitan Chicago (“Make less than $62k? Can’t afford home in Chicago,” March 24). Now, it’s becoming clear that affordability is even more elusive.

Traditionally, housing has been deemed "affordable" if it costs 30 percent or less of household income. The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology has developed a truer measure of affordable living: The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index factors in both housing and transportation costs – the top two household expenses – showing that just 39 percent of U.S. metropolitan regions are affordable. Using the Index as a guide, the Obama administration is working to redefine affordability. The shift is part of what’s been dubbed the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, to support more livable communities nationwide by coordinating the work of federal agencies responsible for housing, transportation and environmental policies and investments.

The Livable Communities Act, which U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has pledged to pass before he retires this year, is a key opportunity to advance this initiative. The bill promotes walkable communities (thereby reducing household transportation costs) by supporting planning and investments that link housing, transportation, and workforce. Advocates are calling for the bill to be amended to include incentives for employers investing in coordinated solutions. For a decade, the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council has helped more than 70 Chicago-area employers start Employer-Assisted Housing Programs to help their employees purchase homes near work. A 2010 analysis of University of Chicago’s EAH program shows the average driving distance for participating employees has dropped, from 5.98 miles to 1.3 miles, netting transportation savings of nearly $400 a year per employee.

As the federal government continues to focus on supporting truly livable communities, we encourage the Obama administration to look to Chicago for models that prove it pays to coordinate housing and transportation.

MarySue Barrett
Metropolitan Planning Council

Katherine Tholin
Chief Executive Officer
Center for Neighborhood Technology


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