H+T Affordability Index: A Useful Tool?

As a former geography major in college, I was really interested to discover the the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index which measures housing and transit affordability.  The index understands housing to be affordable when it is under 30% of one’s income, and housing + transportation should be under 45%.  Through the index tool, one can compare regions to understand how housing and transportation, as well as more specific data such as commuters per household, effect populations. It is also possible to compare two maps side by side, and view on several different scales all the way from nationally to neighborhood-level.

While this tool is interesting and has its advantages, there have also been many negative critiques of the data that is used, and its agenda to promote living in high-density areas.  For example, in the article “The Muddled CNT Housing and Transportation Index,” Wendell Cox points out several opportunities for readers to misinterpret data.  For example, the index uses metro-median income, even when analyzing the data on a neighborhood level.  Cox explores of a neighborhood in Dallas to make his point:

The H&T Index indicates that housing costs are 8% of incomes in the low-income West Dallas neighborhood when compared to median metropolitan income. However, when the neighborhood income is used, the share of income required for housing is 57%, nearly twice the HUD maximum standard.

The use of median income by metro-area certainly would not translate in areas where UHAB organizers work such as Brooklyn where incomes vary greatly block by block and change dramatically as a result of gentrification.  The map of Bed-Stuy, for example, where we just began working with low-income tenants in a severely distressed AEP building, uses a metro-median income of $63,553– this is clearly much higher than the actual income of tenants in the building, and likely higher than most of the neighborhood.

Nonetheless, there is value in experimenting with the maps and generating information about regions, whether or not it’s the ideal tool to use.  For NYC transit workers and OWS solidarity groups, the current transportation system is abominable.  In a release published by The Gothamist, activists declare:

The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely stalled.

In protest, activists opened over 20 service gates for subway entrance and chained the doors open to provide free access for commuters.  Perhaps one day, transportation will be permanently affordable for all, but until then it’s important to think critically housing and transportation and its impact on poverty in our communities.

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