Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From the Desk of Maya Brennan: Livability at Working Families’ Wages

Livable communities are sustainable, walkable, transit-accessible, and full of the amenities that make it easier for people to thrive. Livability means that local residents can get to and from work easily, use resources sustainably, have a healthy lifestyle, and spend time with family and friends. The appeal of these high-density areas is understandable, even if the term “livability” sometimes is not. Yet as livability increases and people grow to prefer it to the large lots and automobile-centered lifestyle of less sustainable communities, there’s a risk that low- and moderate-income families will be priced out.

Easier commutes, local markets, good schools, and other features of livable communities should not just be available to households that can pay a premium for them. Making livability accessible to low- and moderate-income workers (a topic at a recent NHC and NAR forum in Austin and one that has been raised here before) can help families reduce costs and make it easier to make ends meet while still having time to care for themselves and their families. Higher-density housing and mixed-use development can help working families stay within their budget and minimize stress by reducing their car-dependency and increasing their access to jobs, fresh foods, parks, childcare, and other amenities.

When planning to increase livability in a region, make sure affordability for working families is on your list of concerns. How do you do that? To understand what workers typically earn in your area and how much they can afford to spend on rent or a mortgage, go to the Center for Housing Policy’s Paycheck to Paycheck database. (Disclosure: Paycheck to Paycheck is one of my projects. If you would recommend other tools or data sets, please share them in the comments.) It has wages for more than 70 jobs from accountant to welder in more than 200 metro areas and doesn’t require a stats background to use it.

Keeping working families in mind will help create communities that are both livable and inclusive. Livability means places that are attractive, revitalized, and environmentally sustainable AND allow workers to, well, live there.

For more information on Paycheck to Paycheck and related information please contact Maya Brennan, Center senior research associate.

Image: via, blogs.trb.com

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