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Another strike against the suburbs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 29, 2012 10:07 AM

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High gas prices and ever longer and more traffic-clogged commutes have sent the average family's transportation costs soaring, a new study finds.

And when commuting costs are weighed alongside monthly mortgage payments and rent payments, more and more families, including here in Greater Boston, are struggling to make ends meet, the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology finds.

Based on housing costs alone, three quarters of 900 metropolitan and "micropolitan" areas across the country would now be considered affordable to median income families. But the number of "affordable" neighborhoods within reach of the average family shrinks to just 28 percent when gas, car and other transportation costs are factored in.

With a commuter rail and subway system, the Boston area fares better on transportation costs than other metro areas with little or no public transit.

The average family within I-495 shells out $12,394 on commuting and other costs, compared to $14,928 in Birmingham, Ala., and $14,624 in Rochester in Upstate New York, according to the study.

Still, this is no commuter paradise here, either, with the average Boston-area family shelling out 47 percent of its income on transportation and housing. That's just above CNT's 45 percent affordability threshold.

Meanwhile, if you live in the outer suburbs and drive to work, you have taken it on the chin over the past decade.

From 2000 to 2009, housing costs rose 37 percent across the country, according to CNT, while transportation costs have jumped by more than 39 percent. That's an additional $318 monthly surcharge, just for gas and cars alone, for the average family. Homeowners and renters living near urban areas with public transportation saw a significantly smaller increase, by contrast.

Median income did not keep pace, rising 22 percent over the same period.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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