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HUD Secretary Donovan on the spiraling costs of sprawl

The average family in America today spends 52 percent of its income on housing and transportation costs, according to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. Together, they make up the greatest portion of the average American family’s budget.

Now, those spiraling costs have set off a sea change in Washington. After years of working independently from each other, the federal housing and transportation departments — along with the Environmental Protection Agency and others — are working together in an effort to better address the cost of getting to, and from, our homes. In this exclusive Blueprint America interview with correspondent John Larson, Donovan discusses how the federal government is reshaping policy to link housing and transportation together.

To more accurately measure those costs, the Center for Neighborhood Technology group recently released the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which appraises the true cost of housing based on its location, by examining the transportation costs associated with place.


  • Anonymous Planner

    This is something the Obama Administration doesn’t get (take?) nearly enough credit for – there has been a very real seachange in policy direction. The big media-covered and -fueled policy battles are a bit demoralizing, but it seems like everything else is all I could have wanted when I voted for Obama.

    There’s one statistic I’m surprised Donovan didn’t bring up. Where over 50% of households were families with children while the suburbs were expanding, only something like 25% of households now include children. In other words, it’s not just liberal policy wonks – there really is a huge shift in demand and policy needs to reflect that.

    On the other hand, I worry that it’s going to be really hard to break or turn around the whole highway-home builder-suburban government & booster complex. Go to a meeting of your local Metropolitan Planning Organization if you want to see this in action.

  • Matthew Brian Hersh

    Anonymous Planner: agree with what you’re saying. Do you have a citation for that stat? I’d like to use it in an article.

  • Joe Consoli

    I believe these insights by the HUD Secretary are very accurate.

    The question is what are the short-term and long-term actions needed to transform the transportation situation. The answers I believe are in taking a VERY long term view of transportation in this country. Specifically, before the automobile (19th century the 20th century), many of the small communities and towns across this nation were developed based upon regional and local intermodal connections by rail. Conversely, since the introduction of the automobile and especially following the world wars (20th Century and 21st-century), road and highway construction severed and covered over these rail lines which provided high occupancy travel. Now, in my opinion, existing right-of-ways need to be reconsidered as to whether they make better rail corridors or car corridors.

    The main issues are capacity, demand, and choices. Here are some further insights. Satellite video of beltways and highways typically show lopsided demand on the inner loop versus the outer loops (number of lanes). How can morning vs evening traffice be shifted to accommodate this demand?

    Another issue is “F-Rated” failing services of roadways and intersections. If a roadway is choked with automobile traffic, is it really a roadway or a parking lot? Can these roadways be converted back to rail lines exclusively or can rail and cars straddle one another within the same right-of-way roadbeds?

  • Concerned Planner

    Another factor to consider– that doesn’t seem to be getting much airtime in the wake of the much-praised HUD/EPA/USDOT partnership– is the potentially limiting effects of new HUD mortgage lending policies, especially for condominium ownership. In an effort to stem FHA’s losses from the massive tide of mortgage defaults in the last two years, HUD has greatly tightened its standards for mortgages to be eligibile for FHA insurance– entire buildings must now be approved, non-owner investor concentration has to be low, and for new projects there are environmental guidelines that could greatly restrict adaptive reuse projects and projects in prime redevelopment areas (such as formerly industrial lands close to city centers). These seem reasonable from a standpoint of prudent investment, but potentially contradict some of the smart growth-oriented steps HUD seems to be trying to take in the current administration.

    As one might expect, anything not meeting these requirements to the letter is deemed untouchable by most banks and lending agencies. The requirements for single-family detached housing are far more flexible and permissive, which suggests a likelihood of the housing market to shift in this direction. Single family neighborhoods are not necessarily synonymous with sprawl. They can be walkable and well-designed, but on their own they will not support the kinds of investments in public transit that many cities are interested in pursuing (and over which the federal government is exerting greater and greater scrutiny in its awarding of funding assistance).

    It will be interesting to see how the new FHA guidelines evolve as the real estate industry reckons with the impacts to the condominium market. Hopefully cities quickly recognize the potential challenges and move to quickly shed light on the issue.

  • Brian P

    Well, this sounds like an interesting interview, but I wouldn’t know. I’m deaf, and there’s NO captioning. Come on! Google has beta captioning using their voice recognition software if you can’t be bothered to feed in a transcript to be captioned.

  • Ellen Dunham-Jones

    Matthew Brian Hersh – The Brookings State of Metropolitan America Report, posted on their website over the summer, compares the percentage of households with kids in 1970, up through 2008.

  • Anthony Bianco

    Yes, I agree and it’s accurate and – the Debt-to-Income (DTI) mortgage companies use to qulaify and individual does not include any other expenses except those listed on your credit report. Therefore, we need to include the costs of transportation, gas, electric, cable, internet, groceries and a miscelaneous slush account to cover other expenses related to the kids or family entertainment. When you add all that together, the majority over-extend themselves.