Transportation costs are key factor in small-town foreclosures

January 22, 2011

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THE ARTICLE “Small towns besieged by foreclosures’’ (Page A1, Jan. 11) failed to mention one contributing factor: the high cost of transportation. Many families buy houses in distant communities such as Ashburnham because they appear affordable, without considering the extra money and time they will spend getting to work, schools, and stores. The average household in Ashburnham owns more than two vehicles and drives more than 95 miles per day. At 50 cents per mile (a conservative estimate that includes gas, insurance, and other costs), that adds up to about $1,400 per month, nearly as much as the family profiled in the article pays for its mortgage.

Many factors are at play here. The town’s location far from most employment centers means that the average commute is more than 25 miles round trip. The lack of sidewalks and bike paths means that almost all trips must be by car, making two cars a virtual necessity for a family with children.

Extreme auto dependency is expensive, making it harder for families to meet their mortgage payments. In fact, a national study in 2009 found that suburban areas with long commute times experienced more foreclosures than other, more “location-efficient’’ suburbs. Creating more housing for working families near town centers, employment centers, and transit would help to prevent other families from being caught in this trap.

Timothy Reardon
Senior regional planner
Metropolitan Area Planning Council