Stat-urday: Slow growth, zero-vehicle households and the price of living somewhere less expensive

1 Sep

Population growth in the city and surrounding metro area slowed down dramatically in the second half of the past decade. While that statement might have the ring of a headline from Obvious Monthly, looking at specifics takes it from “Well, Duh” to “Whoa.”

ARC estimated that the 10-county Atlanta metro region’s population grew by 34,550 in the year between April 2010 and April 2011. That’s about 65 percent less than the yearly rate between between 1990 and 2000.

“Over the last three years, essentially since the recession began, the 10-county region has added approximately 91,000 people. To put this into perspective, during the fast-growing 1990s and the 2000 decade, the Atlanta region routinely added 100,000 new residents each year.”

The city of Atlanta, which still hasn’t recovered the more than 70,000 residents it lost between 1970 and 1980, had a net increase of only 697 residents between 2010 and 2011. While that number is still the subject of a dispute between the city and the Census Bureau, it falls well within the pattern of the last 40 years.

The report uses American Community Survey data from the country’s 100 largest metro areas to sketch a profile of the 10 percent of those areas’ households that don’t have a car.

“The United States added over 655,000 roadway lane miles since 1980, leading to the rapid decentralization of housing and jobs. Such decentralization leaves a zero-vehicle household’s most likely travel modes—transit, walking, and biking—at a structural disadvantage due to evergrowing distances between locations.”

Just seven of those 100 metro areas contain nearly half of all the zero-vehicle households studied. The New York area contained 28 percent of them, followed by Chicago, with about 5 percent. Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, DC rounded out the top seven.  Atlanta was around the middle of the pack, with a little more than one percent of the total.

 Among the study’s findings:

  1. Nearly 60 percent of zero-vehicle households in the country were classified as low-income and nearly 62 percent of them are in the primary cities of their metro areas.
  2. While households without cars tend to congregate in central cities, and transit agencies tend to concentrate their coverage in those areas, about 700,000 zero-vehicle households are in areas not served by transit. In the Atlanta area, 37,634 of the 119,638 households without a car also don’t have transit coverage.
  3. Zero-vehicle households are distibuted pretty evenly across ethnic groups. White households made up 36.4 percent of those without a car, Hispanic households 27.7 percent, and black households 25.3 percent.
  4. People living without a car in suburban areas of the South have less access to jobs than any other group.

With purchase prices for housing having slid a lot in the three years since this index was published, some of the figures are probably a little different now.  But it still illustrates the choice many workers have to make between expensive housing and an expensive commute.

The fact sheet for the Atlanta metro compares combined housing and transportation costs for areas within the city, just outside the city and a far north suburb:

Housing costs for residents of Canton, in Cherokee County, averaged about 26 percent of annual income, while those in Sandy Springs spent almost 36 percent. Around Lenox Square it was almost 40 percent. So, by living much farther outside the city, one might spend around 50 percent less on housing.

But “drive ’til you qualify” only works if you rarely leave home.

Workers living in the neighborhood around Lenox Square spent an average of 16.82 percent of their income on transportation, while workers in Canton spent more than twice as much – 29.12 percent. Workers in Sandy Springs spent 21.78 percent. The difference between the intown commuters and those in Cherokee County is glaring, but even more so taken with the fact that the median annual household income in Canton was $8,376 less than in the Lenox Square area.

The numbers also reflect the raging height of the housing bubble at the end of 2007. If CNT’s numbers are to be believed, the cost of owning a house in the Lenox Square area had spiked to an average of more than 73 percent of the area’s median income. In Cherokee County it was about 27 percent.

If you’re curious about the numbers for your neighborhood, there’s a detailed interactive map for Atlanta and 51 other metro areas at the CNT site.

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