Thursday, November 20, 2014

Exurban living can exacerbate joblessness, study finds

The general belief that people living in American suburbs are better off economically than those in cities has been shaken in recent years, as desirable downtown neighborhoods have risen in price and have pushed poverty out into first- and second-ring suburbs. Here's another crack in that once monolithic belief.

Writer F. Kaid Benfield reports in Huffington Post on a new U.S. Census study that found recently laid-off workers who live far from job centers take longer to find replacement employment than do residents of neighborhoods more convenient to jobs by public transit or car.

The study itself is from the US Census bureau. Read it here. 

Benfield, who writes for the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains how exurban living can hurt, not help, household and government financial health:

"More hidden [than the problems of auto emissions contributing to carbon emissions], though, are the economic consequences of sprawl, such as rising costs for the construction and maintenance of extended infrastructure and the burdens of increased transportation costs on household budgets.

"More hidden still are the economic consequences of households being located at long distances, inadequately served by public transit, from job centers. For the employed, it means longer and more inconvenient commutes. But, for the unemployed, in too many cases it means you can't get to the job you need at all because you can't afford the costs of car ownership and inadequate public transit simply doesn't connect you to where you need to go."

Fact many Americans are unaware of: For the average U.S. household, the second-biggest chunk of the household budget, after housing, is not health care or food. It's transportation.

Benfield links to an article in The Economist about the jobs-housing spatial mismatch, which notes: "The typical American city dweller can reach just 30 percent of jobs in their city within 90 minutes on public transport. That is a recipe for unemployment."

Read Benfield's full article here.


Yet another way the feds promote sprawl

Another new subdivision for Union County, N.C., just south of Charlotte. Photo: Nancy Pierce

Feds promoting sprawl? That might surprise people who believe (wrongly, let me state) that the government is trying to push everyone, kicking and screaming, into high-rise apartments. But this article from Governing magazine last month shows that, in fact, the feds incentivize single-family housing at the expense of more dense development. The result is that some multifamily and mixed-use developments are pricier than they should be to buyers.

"Since its 1934 inception," writes Scott Beyer, "the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] has insured mortgages for more than 34 million properties, facilitating mass homeownership over several generations. But only 47,205 of these plans have been for multifamily projects. This is due to longtime provisions that make it harder for condos to get FHA certification. As late as 2012, 90 percent of a condo’s units had to be owner-occupied and only 25 percent of its space could be for businesses."

The FHA has eased that rule a bit in the past two years, Beyer reports, but even so: "These policies mean that, although practically every single-family home can be FHA-insured, only 10 percent of condo projects nationwide qualify. This makes condos less affordable, since prospective buyers seeking private financing without FHA backing face higher borrowing costs and typically must make 20 percent down payments rather than the 3.5 percent typically required of FHA-backed mortgages."

Click here to read his full report, "FHA Policies Discourage Density."