Yesterday morning NPR ran this report on housing prices:
Economists say home prices are nowhere near hitting bottom. But even in regions that have taken a beating, some neighborhoods remain practically unscathed. And a pattern is emerging as to which neighborhoods those are.
The ones with short commutes are faring better than places with long drives into the city. Some analysts see a pause in what has long been inexorable – urban sprawl.
This is a predictable fact of soaring gas prices. Older city centers have more commute options, and usually shorter commutes period, meaning less gas consumption. This eliminates a key source of pressure on household incomes.
In fact, we can see a similar pattern here in California. The areas hardest hit by foreclosures are those places with the longest commutes – Stockton, Modesto, the SoCal Inland Empire. And when did the housing bubble begin to burst? Late 2006 and early 2007, as gas prices broke through the $3 barrier for good.
This view is bolstered by a new study and widget from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. It shows that once you factor in transportation costs, living in a city center is just as, if not more affordable, for a middle-class family than a suburb – at least in Seattle (a typical West Coast city with sky-high rents and home prices in the city center).
All of this reinforces the point I made last August in Redefining the California Dream, where I argued that the only way lower- and middle-income Californians will have economic security and be able to afford the cost of living is if we abandon the obsolete 20th century model of sprawl and embrace the 21st century model of elegant density.
It would help, of course, if folks like Zev Yaroslavsky would stop spending their time trying to prevent this necessary shift in living patterns. We need to bolster affordable housing policies, provide mass transit alternative, and zone for walkable communities if we are to avoid a situation where we merely exchange the inner city slum for a suburban slum.