Category Archives: Housing

The Richmond Elite’s Bizarre Self Image

richmond-times-dispatchBy Peter Galuszka

If one wants to know one source of Richmond’s malaise, she or he need look no further than the pages of the Richmond Times Dispatch, the mouthpiece of the city’s elite. This is especially true when one reads this morning’s edition. The inadvertent revelations about the city and what is wrong with its leadership are stunning.

Some background. Last week, Style Weekly, an alternative newspaper in the city, published a hard-hitting cover story taking a ground-up view of just how awful and neglected the city’s school buildings and system are. The coverage is very much contrary to the image Richmond’s “leadership” wants to sell about the city.

As the schools are mismanaged and families are abused, the Richmond elite, and the RTD’s editors are pushing other pet projects such as building a new baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom to replace a crumbling one elsewhere and a chamber of commerce trip to Tampa by 159 “leaders” to learn how another city works.

Full disclosure: I am a contributing editor at Style but had no input to the school story. I did file two blog postings about the schools story and received a number of highly insightful comments by readers. The basic problem, as several put it, is that  the schools are a mess is that the middle class has moved to the suburbs, the upper class sends its children to private schools and many of those left aren’t in a position to join the debate are have much influence. One out of every four people living in the city is poor.

The TD’s coverage today is a wonderful blueprint about exactly what is wrong with the elite’s thinking. Examples:

  • The front page features a catch-up story featuring short 125 word essays written by seven city council members and nine school board members. Three council members, Reva Trammell, Michelle R. Mosby and Cynthia Newbill – didn’t respond, perhaps wisely. The story states that judging from the responses, “momentum is building” for “substantive change.” The council, the school board and the mayor are working together. Mind you, this is not based on any real reporting—such as shoe leather in the school halls. Instead, one gets to read what the leadership responsible for the horrific problems thinks about them – sort of like interviewing the foxes after they raid the chicken coop. An added extra: the RTD claims it sent out its questionnaires before Style published its story, sort of like backdating stock options.
  • Flip to the “Commentary” section and a piece by John W. Martin, CEO and president of the “Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond and frequent opinions contributor to the TD. His piece is basically an extended apology for proposing a new stadium in the middle of the blooded ground of the country’s second-largest slave market – standard stuff. Especially bizarre is the art. It is a cartoon drawing of what appears to be an interracial couple happily walking near what could be a combined slave memorial ballpark. The man is white, blond, wears a Richmond polo shirt and is flipping a baseball. His arm is around an African-American woman in sports togs and carrying designer shopping bags. In front is an apparently mixed-race child in a Flying Squirrels baseball cap happily holding out his glove to catch the ball from dad. The effect is downright creepy. It insults the intelligence of the readers and hits a very sensitive raw nerve, given Richmond’s sad history of race relations and the TD’s historic support of segregation five decades ago when it really mattered.
  • Let’s move to the Op-ed page where there is piece by Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the University of Richmond business school and upcoming chair of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. She was part of the chamber’s trip to Tampa to “learn” how they do it (while Richmond’s school buildings crumble). Her important takeaways seem to be that Tampa puts lights on its bridges, that it is a big port city, the region has distinctive personalities and that there are some universities there. Her conclusion: “I fell love with Tampa during out visit, but “I’m still married to Richmond.” Now that is extremely helpful.
  • Lastly, there is an impenetrable story by TD publisher Thomas A. Silvestri about several fictitious people discussing Tampa. Unsure of the point, I read the endline bio of Silvestri. It says he used to head the chamber and did not go on the Tampa trip because he’s been there before.

So, there you have it folks. Instead of real reporting, you have Richmond’s elite, some of whom are responsible for the problems, interviewing themselves. And that is a big reason why the city is in such a huge mess.

The Koch’s Bizarre Meddling in Chesterfield

koch brothersBy Peter Galuszka

The Koch brothers are back in the bucolic suburban tracts of Chesterfield County.

This time, their national group, Americans for Prosperity, has launched a robocall campaign to oppose a proposed real estate tax hike of 4.6 cents to help pay for $304 million renovations to schools or perhaps hire more teachers to bring classroom sizes back to pre-recession levels.

It’s apparently the second time that Americans for Prosperity have been on their case in Chesterfield. Last year, the hard-right group sent out bizarre “report cards” to ordinary citizens bashing them for not registering to vote.

In one famous local case, a recipient was actually a registered and active voter and greatly resented the idea that a multi-million dollar national outfit like the Americans for Prosperity was trying to monitor his personal business.

This time, Sean Lansing, the group’s Virginia director told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the goal is to “educate” residents on the issues, as if they are too stupid to understand local tax and classroom size problems that they probably know far better than some AEP appartchiki.

Chesterfield has caught itself in a bind because it hasn’t raised real estate taxes since 1990 despite its brisk growth rate. Voters in November voted down a 2 percent meals tax that could have raised money for schools. Henrico County voters, by contrast, narrowly approved a 4 percent meals tax and thus have no budget crisis that another tax hike is needed to resolve.

Admittedly, one of Chesterfield’s problems is bad planning. The staunchly Republican county has a long history of being very friendly to developers. Consequently, the county is in a constant service “catch up” mode. Need schools, such as Cosby High near some of the county’s largest residential developments, was already way overcrowded before it was finished a few years ago.

What is puzzling is what the Koch brothers are so interested in Chesterfield. It is hardly an election battleground. There is no strong Democratic or other opposing party. Yet with consummate arrogance, this cabal believes that residents need robocalls to “educate” them.

“Educate” them for what? If you want good schools and other services, someone has to pay for them. And as a Chesterfield resident for nearly 14 years, I can attest that taxes here are considerably lower than other places I have lived as an adult (Washington, New York, Chicago, suburban Cleveland, etc.).

Don’t Expect Increased Real Estate Assessments to Bail out Local Government

demand_instituteThere’s bad news for local governments in Virginia that rely upon property tax revenues to support schools, public safety and other priorities. Property values for single-family homes, which account for a large majority of most jurisdictions’ total assessed value, will not increase much over the next few years, according to a new study by the Demand Institute.

Nationally, the picture  is dismal enough. “Double-digit increases in U.S. home prices over the past two years are not indicative of future trends,” states the report. “They were driven largely by investors buying up swaths of distressed homes to meet growing rental demand. Over the next five years, prices will grow over a much slower rate. We forecast existing single-family media home prices to grow at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent between 2015 and 2018 as supply and demand move into sustained equilibrium.”

But there will be significant variations among the 50 states. And Virginia drew the short end of the stick. Of the 50 states and District of Columbia, the Demand Institute ranks Virginia third from the bottom (D.C. is at the very bottom) for expected rebound in the median price for a single-family house between 2012 (the market trough) and 2018 — only 14%.

(There is a discrepancy in the numbers that I am at a loss to explain. Nationally, the median price of single family houses is forecast to increase at an annual rate of 2.1% between 2015 and 2018, or 6.3%.  Yet the report’s breakdown of the states shows every state but D.C. showing increases between 7% and 33% over the same period. If anyone can explain the difference, please let me know.)

There is even greater variation in the forecasts for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). The Washington metro area ranks dead last, with anticipated price gains of only 7% between 2012 and 2018 — an average gain of little more than 1% a year.

Richmond is a laggard with only a 17% gain over the same period, while Hampton Roads shows a stronger housing market than most, with a forecast gain of 25%.

Bacon’s bottom line. Rising real estate assessments won’t bail out Virginia local governments like they did in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, localities are grappling with the cost of financing public pensions, meeting state and federal storm-water mandates and replacing aging infrastructure. Either tax rates will rise, government services will be cut… or government officials will have to do things differently. Of the three, the latter course of action is the most desirable, though probably the least likely.

What can we do? Move more aggressively to apply smart-city technologies to manage public facilities and infrastructure more efficiently. Encourage more compact development to maximize utilization of existing infrastructure without incurring the obligation to build and maintain more. Begin integrating online and computerized learning into K-12 curricula as appropriate.

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

It’s sad to see mccrorytwo states to which I have personal ties – North Carolina and West Virginia — in such bad ways.

The latest raw news comes from the Tar Heel state where we are seeing the handiwork of hard-right- Gov. Pat McCrory who has been on a tear for a year now bashing civil rights here, pulling back from regulation there.

The big news is Duke Energy’s spill of coal ash and contaminated water near Eden into the Dan River, which supplies Danville and potentially Virginia Beach with drinking water. Reports are creeping out that the McCrory regime has been pressuring the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to pull back from regulation.

According to Rachel Maddow, DENR officials had stepped in with environmentalists as plaintiffs on two occasions in lawsuits to get Duke Energy to clean up coal ash. But when a third suit was filed, McCrory, a former Charlotte Mayor and career Duke Energy employee, influenced a third lawsuit settlement against Duke to be delayed.

Also, not long before the Eden spill, the City of Burlington released sewage into the Haw River which flows into Lake Jordan serving drinking water to Cary, Apex and Pittsboro. DENR allegedly did not release news of the spill to the public.

Late last year, Amy Adams, a senior DENR official, resigned to protest the massive cuts McCrory and Republican legislators were forcing at her department, notably in its water quality section.

McCrory’s been on a Ken Cuccinelli-style rip in other ways such as cutting back on unemployment benefits in a top manufacturing state badly hit by the recession and globalization. He’s shut down abortion clinics by suddenly raising the sanitation rules to hospital levels, much like former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell did in Virginia.

A reaction to McCrory is building, however. Recently, I chatted with Jason Thigpen who served in the Army and was wounded in Iraq in 2009. When Thigpen returned to his home in southeastern North Carolina, he was upset that the state was sticking it to vets by making them pay out-of-state college tuition in cases where some had been state residents before deploying. So, he started an activist group to protect them.

Next, Thigpen decided to run for Congress. His views fit more neatly with the Republican Party but he simply could not take what McCrory was doing in Raleigh so he became a Democrat and is a contender in a primary this spring.

Why the switch? “I just couldn’t see what the GOP was doing with my state in Raleigh,” He told me. “Also, I didn’t like what they were doing with women. I had served with women in war and they come back to North Carolina and they are treated like second class citizens,” he said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is still struggling with its drinking water issues from a spill near Charleston. Although drinking water for 300,000 is said to be potable, children are reporting rashes.

Somehow, this conjures up another story involving a Republican governor – Arch Moore.

Back in 1972, Moore was governor when Pittston, a Virginia-based energy firm, had badly sited and built some damns to hold coal waste. After torrential rains, the dams burst and a sea of filthy water raced down the hollows, inundating small villages and killing 125 people. The state wanted a $100 million settlement from Pittston for the Buffalo Creek disaster, but Moore interceded and they settled for a measly $1 million.

Moore was later convicted of five felonies after he was caught extorting $573,000 from a coal company that wanted to reduce its payments to a state fund that compensated miners who got black lung disease.

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

Meanwhile, we in Virginia should breathe a sigh of relief considering just close it was dodging the bullet last election.

Housing Supply, Demand and Affordability

It could be worse -- you could live in Hong Kong.

It could be worse — you could live in Hong Kong.

by James A. Bacon

The Hampton Roads and Richmond housing markets are “moderately unaffordable,” according to the 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2014. While not exactly a kudo, that classification puts the two of Virginia’s three largest metros in the top one third of housing affordability for major markets (one million people and over) in the English-speaking world (the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand) as well as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Demographia classifies the Washington metro region as “seriously unaffordable” based on 2013 data, yet the capital region rates better than Denver, Portland, Boston, New York and San Francisco, not to mention such expensive outliers as London, Sydney and Hong Kong. (The study uses a multiple of 3.0 as the threshold of affordability — if median housing prices exceed median household incomes by more than three times, a region is deemed unaffordable.)

The authors contend that housing affordability is largely a function of regions’ “urban containment policies,” or land use controls that restrict the supply of developable land on the grounds of livability, sustainability or smart growth.

Housing affordability has deteriorated sharply in the past decade in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and in some markets of Canada and the United States (evidenced by sharply higher Median Multiples). In every market where there has been a sustained and significant increase in the Median Multiple, more restrictive land use policies have been implemented.

I have extracted Demographia’s data for Virginia’s three major metropolitan regions below and bracketed them with the most affordable and least affordable major markets in North America, Pittsburgh and Vancouver.

affordability_ratios

Demographia maintains that its methodology actually understates the differences in housing affordability. The average new house size in the United States, which tends to have more affordable housing markets) is significantly larger than in other countries: 250 square meters in the U.S. compared to less than 1oo square meters in Ireland, Singapore, the U.K. and Hong Kong. Not only is the median house size more affordable in terms of median income, it is bigger, which translates into a higher standard of living.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Demographia study drives home a partial truth: Land use controls restrict the supply of developable land and, all other things being equal, a restricted supply of land drives up housing prices and diminishes the standard of living. I don’t see how any serious person can dispute this conclusion.

However, all other things are never equal. The Demographia analysis is shorn of critical context.

Transportation. It is highly deceptive to focus on the cost of housing without also considering the cost of transportation. It is axiomatic that the price of housing is largely influenced by its accessibility to jobs and amenities. Many Americans (and undoubtedly citizens of other countries) are willing to trade higher transportation costs and longer commutes for lower housing costs, and vice versa. Housing cannot be considered in isolation from transportation. If higher housing costs are offset by lower transportation costs made possible by restrictive land use policies, livability is not necessarily sacrificed. Therefore, the Demographia analysis is incomplete. 

Infrastructure. The pattern and density of land use impacts the cost of utilities and public services, including water and sewer; fire, police and rescue; and school busing, just to name the most visible. In the United States, the cost per dwelling unit of providing these urban amenities rises when new development occurs in more scattered, low-density locations. Inefficient settlement patterns lead to higher costs — and higher taxes — than a municipality would incur otherwise. Demographia’s analysis does not consider these costs.

Demand. The price of housing reflects the equilibrium between supply and demand. One reason that housing prices are so high in San Jose (Silicon Valley) and neighboring San Francisco is that there is so much wealth creation occurring there that far more people would like to live there than can afford to. San Francisco has added 1,500 housing units a year over the past two decades, according to Gabriel Metcalf, hardly a no-growth policy. The problem is that the slowly expanding housing stock could not keep up with demand. Contrast that to super-affordable cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit. The population of the Pittsburgh MSA is lower than it was in 1960. Need I even mention the situation in Detroit? Sad to say but many of Demographia’s most “affordable” cities have been economic laggards over several decades. That path to housing affordability is one that few others would want to emulate.

That’s not to say that Demographia is wrong about the link between urban containment, housing affordability and standard of living. But the issues are far more complex than Demographia lets on. If study authors Wendell Cox and Hugh Pavletich want to persuade the unconverted, they need to up their game.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

Where the Poor Are

ram wise countyBy Peter Galuszka

With expanding Medicaid about to become a major issue with the incoming Terry McAuliffe administration, it is curious to see exactly where the poor people in Virginia live. An intriguing New York Times interactive graph provides clues and allows one to draw some rather disturbing conclusions.

The single worst pocket of poverty of 76.7% appears to be in an inner city part of Hampton. Trailing not far behind are inner city parts of Norfolk (67.8%) and Portsmouth (64.9%).

Much-touted RVA is a hotbed for low-income people as defined by individuals making less than $11,945 a year or a family of four making $23,283 a year. Despite all the hoopla you read about Richmond becoming an artsy draw for white, educated millennials, the capital, at least its downtown and east end, is as poor as church mice.

An east end section near Fairfield Avenue is 67.% poor. Manchester south of downtown has rates of 35% and farther south it is 50.7%.

Zip over the mostly white Short Pump area where the fancy stores are in Henrico and poverty is about 2 percent. I tried to look up where Jim Bacon lives but the chart said it was a “low population area” and rates weren’t available. My area in southwestern Chesterfield is about 3 percent.

A cursory scan around the state did not show any poverty rates anywhere close to those of the inner cities of Tidewater or Richmond –certainly not in Northern Virginia although Winchester seemed a little sketchy.

In more rural areas, Halifax County in the dying tobacco and textile belt was high but the surrounding area was low. An area near Lynchburg showed 50 percent levels.

Another curiosity was that once you get to the Southwest, you can see the black hand of coal. The Virginia coalfields are generally just west of U.S. 19. Giles County to the east of it has poverty rates of about 13 %. But cross to the western counties and watch it double (Buchanan 23%; Dickenson, 21.3% and Wise, 25.6%).

What do these counties have in common? A dying coal industry and even dying is a misnomer. One would think that these areas would be swimming in money thanks to black diamonds. Anything but. They’ve been stripped and raped with the wealth flowing elsewhere. This is something to keep in mind when you hear about “The War on Coal.” Turns out the “War on People Living Near Coal Mines” has been going on since the late 19th century.

The Times chart is a wonderful reality check. It should have huge applications as expanding Medicaid is considered. The lesson seems to be that extreme poverty is concentrated in neglected inner city neighborhoods and abused rural areas.

If (God forbid!) poor people start flocking to emergency rooms once they get Medicaid, those emergency rooms are likely to be in large, downtown teaching hospitals like the Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems and Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. They won’t be in rich, white suburban areas for the simple reason that public transit is lacking. In rural areas, the poor may well have to find rides to take them dozens of miles to find care.

(Hat tip to Scott Elmquist) 

Tiny Homes, Meet Mobile Homes

Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

Tiny homes in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Atlantic Cities

by James A. Bacon

I am tickled by the “tiny homes” movement, which the urbanist blogs treat with a certain reverence. To be sure, tiny homes (under 500 square feet) address a real problem: the unaffordability of real estate in some of the nation’s most desirable metropolitan areas. Tapping creativity and ingenuity to stretch the boundaries of design is vastly preferable to addressing the problem through coercion and wealth transfers, as the political class is inclined to do. Still, it amuses me that when Millennial creative-class types get so much attention, while a rural, blue-collar alternative — the mobile home — gets no respect at all.

A recent case in point is a profile, published yesterday in Atlantic Cities, of four tiny homes built on a single lot in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. Housing in the rapidly gentrifying District is unaffordable for many residents. By one estimate, the housing supply for low-income renters falls 30,000 units short.  Writes Nancy Cook:

This is where evangelists for the tiny-house movement come in. Proponents of this small-space living say these houses can help fill the void. They can be built in vacant urban lots, allowing residents to reuse space in dense areas. More important, the tiny houses offer a cheaper alternative to buying a condo or a single-family house. Tenants of the Evarts Street lot in Northeast Washington—a community the owners call Boneyard Studios—built their houses for about $35,000 to $40,000; that is less than the down payment required to buy many D.C. homes.

The author describes the house of 24-year-old Jay Austin as having a “cool minimalist design” along with solar panels and a tank to collect rain water for use in his kitchen sink. Alas, the house “still lacks a shower or toilet.” On the other hand, the houses are built on trailers. “If [the owners] ever decide to leave the city,” writes Cook, “they can simply bring their homes along.

Hold that thought: a 140-square-foot house with wheels — no toilet, no shower — built for $35,000 to $40,000 exerts a hold on the imagination of young urbanists. Now, compare and contrast to housing innovations coming out of places like Rocky Mount, Va., home to Fleetwood Homes, or Martinsville, Va., home of Nationwide Homes.

kitchenette

Factory Expo Mobile Homes, a distributor that ships to seven states in the Mid-Atlantic region, offers an Annual Year End Sale selling a “micro” mobile home for $17,900. The 373-square foot structure contains a bedroom, living/dining room, kitchenette and a bathroom with working shower and toilet. It may not have solar panels, but it does have thermal insulation. It may not have a tank that collects rain water, but it does have a 30-gallon electric hot water heater. It also comes equipped with things like a refrigerator, electric range, light fixtures, plumbing and an electric furnace.

I’ll admit, this sucker is pretty ugly — the unadorned vinyl exterior has as much charm as a pair of old sweat socks. But when you’re paying down an $18,000 loan over 15  years at 3.5% interest rates — about $150 per month — you might have a little money left over to dress it up. And it’s a whole lot roomier than Jay Austin’s tiny home. Price is the big advantage that manufactured housing has over hand-crafted housing. (Finding land and utility hook-ups for either tiny homes or mobile homes is a separate issue.)

kingletIf you’re looking for something more stylish, consider the “Kinglet” eco-cottage manufactured by Nationwide Homes.  This bad boy packs a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen into 475 square feet. It sells for about $54,000.

Mobile home parks have a lousy reputation — but that’s mostly because of the poor and disorderly people who live in them. I’ve seen mobile-home subdivisions on the beach in North Carolina that were nicely kept up. Their owners added decks, porches and manicured gardens. The problem is that many municipalities have zoned mobile-home parks out of existence. It isn’t the housing they object to — it’s the poor people who live in them. But if you’re looking for a solution to the affordable housing crunch, mobile homes and manufactured housing should be part of the mix.

An Updated Metric for Housing-Transportation Affordability

by James A. Bacon

One of the most important insights of the Smart Growth movement is that the household costs of housing and transportation are intertwined. You can buy a less expensive house if you are willing to live far from the urban core with its more desirable location and higher property values. But you lose a lot in additional transportation costs and commuting time.

In 2008 the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) developed a Housing + Transportation Index show how the true cost of a housing location varies considerably if you incorporate transportation costs into the calculation. Now CNT has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to update its methodology and generate more data.

Among the more interesting data points is the “Transportation Costs for the National Typical Household” for metro regions with populations of one million or greater. Here are the numbers for Virginia’s Big Three Metropolitan Statistical Areas:

transportation_cost

Comparing regions, it is interesting to note that the Washington region, known for its unaffordable housing, offsets those prices to some degree with lower transportation costs. Not that it makes much difference. NoVa remains unaffordable. What the new index does is show that other Virginia regions are unaffordable as well.

Here’s the “housing affordability” map for Virginia. Yellow areas show where the regional typical household makes enough money to dedicate less than 30% of its income to housing. Blue areas show where they pay a higher percentage.

housing_affordability

The map below looks at housing and transportation together. Yellow marks areas where the typical household pays less than 45% for housing and transportation combined, blue where they pay more.

housing+transportation

Yikes! Affordability has almost disappeared!

Drill deeper into the data with this tool and you can see that that the picture looks more variegated on a metropolitan level. The situation is bad but not as grim as the map makes it appear. 

While the index is useful for households making decisions where to live, it is less than authoritative. For instance, it leaves out the time cost of travel, which can be every bit as important as the out-of-pocket cost of driving or taking the bus. Also, it omits the cost of public subsidies. Roads, highways, rail and buses all depend upon taxpayer-funded subsidies (over and above fares, tolls and user fees) for capital and/or operating costs. But if nothing else, the index highlights the regional variability of housing and transportation affordability and provokes discussion on how to improve the mix.

Thank God It’s Over: Seven Election Takeaways

cooch and macBy Peter Galuszka

The awful Virginia gubernatorial contest is over. Utter disaster has been averted with the defeat of strident rightwinger Kenneth Cuccinelli. Here are seven takeaways from Election Day:

1. Winner Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, now gets to deal with a contentious General Assembly where the GOP maintains firm control on the House of Delegates. The state may be stubbornly gridlock prone come January.

2. Amid all the confusion over implementing the Affordable Car Act, McAuliffe must do something for the 400,000 or so needy Virginians who can’t get federal health insurance subsidies. One reason is that Virginia’s conservatives have rejected expanding Medicaid. Good luck to McAuliffe on his coming effort to reverse this.

3. It should be crystal clear from Tuesday’s voting patterns that the Old Dominion has moved beyond the Tea Party craze and their various machinations. Moderate Republicans need to find some backbone and clean out the Tea Party types who manipulated the party convention that got rid of a winnable Bill Bolling and replaced him with losers like Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, who got creamed in the lieutenant governor’s race.

4. Once again, suburban and urban Virginians have shown that they hold the keys to power. The Walton family types from the rural hills may be perennially “red,” but they are fading into history much like that television show’s reruns.

5. Soon, we should learn whether Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will be indicted on corruption charges. Richmond’s focus needs to turn to ethics reform and the work of creating real institutions for dealing with these kinds of issues, such as a State Ethics Commission, although I realize this is unlikely.

6. Virginia has a ton of real problems such as the need to create sustainable jobs to wean the state away from an increasingly unreliable federal government sector. Roads remain a huge issue, as does maintaining and improving education, and pushing smarter growth planning policies.

That’s enough for the moment, but there is some good news I need to throw in:

7. Now that Cuccinelli is out of the way, the state won’t have to be sidetracked by the infuriating fringe issues that come along with him, such his climate change denial, assaults on women’s rights, bashing gays and immigrants and tendency to blame the government for everything wrong with the state.

The jury’s still out on a flawed McAuliffe, but let the healing and rebuilding begin.