The High Costs of Living Far From Work

A Mobility Lab article on the costs of living in the Washington, D.C. area got us thinking about the costs of living in Austin. Specifically, the cost of living near your work place (downtown, for the purposes of this article), versus living far from your work place.

As we all know, there are a lot of people moving into downtown and central Austin these days.

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The latest 2015 numbers for downtown occupancy show 11,000 people living downtown, or a 93% occupancy rate – pretty much as full as it can be with move-ins and moves out. Almost 1,600 new apartments are under construction downtown and 4,500 in central Austin. That’s 25% of all Austin area apartments.

Builders and real estate professionals see people choosing a move into central Austin and downtown for the “urban lifestyle” – easy access to great food, entertainment, and parks. Just look at Walkscore by zip code to see how many options are close by to shop, eat, socialize, or just play. While it’s easy to assume those choices are only available to more affluent households, there’s more going on behind the cost breakdown.

The Crossland Real Estate group provides a calculator to start assessing the added monthly costs of long commutes, and those costs don’t include important factors like lost time with the family, stress, and added health costs from sitting still in your car for hours at a time. Out of pocket costs can total $150-200 per month.  Car prices, and car payments, make the numbers much higher. The average new car price is more than $33,000 (according to the Kelley Blue Book), or around $600 per month for a traditional five-year loan. Tack on car insurance and maintenance, and the cost of this new automobile realistically adds up to $750 per month or more.

When you add all these other costs for transportation, living in an area where you’re forced to drive becomes much pricier. Check out this map of housing and transportation costs for more details on the numbers in the Austin area.

So while people moving downtown will pay more for housing and transportation as a percentage of their income, more of the money goes towards home and location. Much, much less goes for the transportation. Of course, there is an affordability element to this discussion. Not everyone can afford to move downtown, even if enough residential units existed to accommodate all those people. Nonetheless, affordability isn’t going to improve by pushing people farther away from their workplaces, which is one reason all the residential development downtown is a welcome option.

2 Responses to The High Costs of Living Far From Work

  1. Chris says:

    I actually did an in-depth sample analysis of living downtown versus living out in the suburbs on my blog back in 2013. You might find that breakdown of costs interesting: https://savingcities.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/which-costs-more-a-single-family-home-or-a-condo/