Think Your House is Affordable? Think Again.

Houston is widely considered one of the most affordable cities when it comes to housing. A new study, however, challenges the typical view of what makes a house affordable. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports.

If you're looking for a new home, one of the first things you'll consider is if you can afford the mortgage payments.  Typically, if housing costs are 30% or less of your income, the house is considered affordable. But the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a national non profit, argues that's missing something-transportation costs.  Here's Research Director Linda Young:

"There's been a phenomenon where people drive ‘til they qualify, and they really are finding some wonderful homes at wonderful prices. But they don't realize that what they save on the home price is often being eroded by the additional transportation costs."

The new study assumes that families should spend 45% of their income on housing plus transportation. Using this new model, they looked at neighborhoods across the country and found that less than half are actually affordable. 

Houston still ranks better than the national average, but the study yields some interesting details.  Though a house in Midtown might seem more expensive, when you factor in transportation, they say, the total costs are less than for a home in Katy.

"It's one of those things you don't really necessarily factor in terms of dollars and cents. It's more like, could we carpool, is there a park and ride nearby? But we didn't sit down and really calculate everything out."

Valerie Friedlander and her husband just bought a house out on 290.  She says they definitely thought about transportation time, but not necessarily cost.  Susan Smith, a realtor who works with properties across the Houston area, says that's a common approach for homebuyers in this region.

"What I find is really the driving factor for buyers  is they're looking for a particular school district and they're looking for community amenities. And so they're willing to drive for them."

Jay Blazek Crossley is a program developer at the non profit Houston Tomorrow.  He suggests that people may not think too much about transportation costs because it's just so hard to calculate.

"It's easy to understand a mortgage that's going to be set.  It's not as easy to understand, your insurance, your maintenance on your car, the gas, the oil changes."

But he thinks that this study should encourage homebuyers and policy makers to consider investing in walkable, self sufficient communities and public transit.

"It's essential that the Houston region continues its strategy of providing rapid transit. That doesn't mean that people don't have the option to live in the suburbs.  We have that. We don't have enough walkable urban neighborhoods."

One thing's for sure-when the price of gas starts creeping back toward $4 dollars a gallon, people start paying attention.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez