What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.
Des Moines continues to make national news as a place with a generally high quality of life. This week NBC’s Today show named Iowa’s capital as “the city where regular folk can live a rich life,” because the “cost of living is almost 10 percent below the average for the country.” Last summer, Forbes magazine named Des Moines the country’s best city for “business and careers,” noting it was “the only place that ranks among the top quartile in at least nine of the 12 metrics we graded the cities on.” Previous research indicates that Des Moines has “one of the shortest commute times in the nation with an average commute of about 19 minutes.”
But given that Iowa wages skew lower than salaries in many other metro areas, how affordable is Des Moines, really? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation recently launched a Location Affordability Portal that takes into account “the percentage of a family’s income dedicated to the combined cost of housing and transportation in a given location.” (I’ve posted more explanation after the jump.) The algorithm takes into account that many Americans are now spending more on transportation than on rent or mortgage payments, so you can’t just look at housing costs when deciding whether a particular neighborhood is “affordable.”
On this page you can search by a specific address, a zip code, city, county or state to pull up information on average household income and how much a household in that area could expect to spend on housing and transportation.
Windsor Heights (zip code 50324) has a “location affordability” rating of 42 percent. The average household could expect to spend 25 percent of annual income on housing and 17 percent on transportation. Affordability numbers on the west side of Des Moines (50311) are similar. The near north side of Des Moines (50314) is more affordable, and the combined average cost of housing and transportation is lower still on the south side (50315) and around downtown (50309).
Residents in the Iowa City zip code of 52242 can expect to spend less on transportation (16 percent of annual income) but a lot more for housing (39 percent), for a total location affordability of 55 percent. The Cedar Falls zip code of 50613 has a nearly identical combined affordability rating as downtown Iowa City (54 percent), but residents can expect to spend less on housing (29 percent) and more on transportation (25 percent)—unless they take advantage of the bicycle-friendly atmosphere in Cedar Falls.
The Location Affordability Index (LAI) estimates the percentage of a family’s income dedicated to the combined cost of housing and transportation in a given location. Because what is “affordable” is different for everyone, you can choose among a diverse set of family profiles-which vary by household income, size, and number of commuters-and see the affordability landscape for each one in your neighborhood, city, or region.
The housing and transportation cost estimates indicate how much a particular household profile would pay if they lived in a given block group between 2006 and 2010. To customize your housing and transportation expenses using current market costs, use My Transportation Cost Calculator.
The LAI can help individuals, planners, and researchers get a more complete understanding of the costs of living in a given location by accounting for variations between households, neighborhoods, and regions, all of which impact affordability.