FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Working families in Honolulu, defined as those earning between $20,000 and $50,000 a year, spend more than half of their incomes on housing and transportation, according to a new report.
Moving away from town carries major price
People seeking affordable homes need to consider transport costs
» Income swallowed by housing, commuting
WORKING FAMILIES in Honolulu and other major metro areas who have sought more affordable housing by looking outside of city employment centers may not be benefiting financially by doing so, according to a nationwide report.
The report, titled A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families, surveyed residents living in major U.S. cities and found that working families devote 57 percent of their annual income to housing and transportation costs on average.
The report, recently released by the Center for Housing Policy, also found homeownership rates among working families are highest in areas with high transportation costs, said Barbara Lipman, research director for the Center for Housing Policy.
It's a phenomenon that's familiar to most Oahu residents, especially those like Mary Bergmann, who lives on the more affordable Leeward side. Bergmann, who has lived in Makakilo for the past 14 years, said she closed on a Kailua home last week because the financial and emotional costs of her commute had finally gotten too high.
"The commute was just getting to be more and more brutal. It used to be 45 minutes max to Makakilo, but now it's over an hour," said Bergmann, who has taken TheBus for nearly a decade. "And, it's only going to get worse with more and more homes being built on the Leeward side."
Honolulu's working families, defined as those earning between $20,000 and $50,000 annually, spend a stunning 56 percent of their incomes on the combined costs of housing and transportation, according to the report.
Only 39 percent of Honolulu residents live near the bulk of the jobs, according to a model developed for the report by researchers at Virginia Tech and the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based sustainable-development advocacy group.
"Honolulu had the most highly concentrated job centers of any other metro area," Lipman said. "In New York, 51 percent of jobs are clustered around centers, but in most every other region only about a third of the jobs are grouped." For Honolulu, the figure is 58 percent, she said.
Moreover, Honolulu residents living outside economic centers pay an average of 8 to 10 percent more for transportation costs, and anywhere from 14 to 16 percent more in combined housing and transportation burdens, researchers concluded.
That's not really news to Bergmann, who said that she has seen bus traffic increase since fuel and housing prices began rising. Honolulu families, who spent 31 percent of their incomes on housing, had a slightly higher housing burden than the national average and were among the top seven cities in the survey for high rents and mortgages. Other cities with high housing costs versus income were San Francisco and Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Anchorage, Alaska; and Seattle.
"Working families are increasingly moving further from their jobs to find affordable housing. Yet, we found that many of these families end up spending more on transportation costs than they save on housing," said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy.
The Center for Housing Policy is the nonprofit research affiliate of the National Housing Conference, an affordable-housing advocacy group.
The findings emphasize the importance of coordinating the development of housing and transportation policy, as well as expanding the supply of affordable housing close to both central city and suburban job centers, improving public transit in areas with lower housing costs and reducing the costs of commuting by car, Lubell said.
Traffic is still the biggest headache for Leeward residents, but fewer seem to be complaining, said Maeda Timson, chairwoman of the Maka-kilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board.
"People are still angry about traffic, but not as angry as they once were, because we're seeing improvements," Timson said.
Most Leeward residents are supportive of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's plan to link Barbers Point to Aloha Tower through a ferry system, the proposed rail transit and infrastructure improvements such as the synchronization of traffic signals, she said.
Job creation in Kapolei also has helped reduce traffic congestion, said Theresia McMurdo, spokeswoman for area landowner Campbell Estate. The Kapolei region, which stretches from Fort Weaver Road to Ko Olina Resort, added more than 6,000 jobs from 2000 to 2005 and is expected to add another 40,000 jobs by 2025, McMurdo said.
As compared to other cities with high combined housing and transportation burdens, Honolulu had relatively low transportation costs, the study found. Honolulu families spend about 25 percent of their annual salaries -- about $8,170 -- on commuting. Transportation costs in the study were based on auto ownership, auto use and public transit use, and take into account the cost of commuting, as well as traveling for school, errands and other daily routines. Overall, across all 28 metro areas, working families spend an average of 30 percent of their incomes, or $10,400, on transportation.
The vast majority of low- to moderate-income commuters in the metro areas surveyed drive to work in private vehicles, about 85 percent. In Hono- lulu, where about 12 percent of commuters take public transit, only about 77 percent of those surveyed took private vehicles to work.