Working families in the Washington, DC, metro area face many challenges. By national standards the median household income of $78,000 is high, but so too are the costs of owning or renting a home. Pockets of affordable housing exist in parts of the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, MD, but most of the homes in the central and inner suburbs, particularly in adjoining Fairfax County, VA, and Montgomery County, MD, are far beyond the means of the median-income family.
To find affordable homes, many in the workforce have followed the popular advice to “drive till you qualify” by moving to remote suburbs such as Warren and Fauquier counties, VA, in the west; Spotsylvania County, VA, and Charles County, MD, in the south; Frederick County in the north; and Calvert County, MD, in the east. As reflected in this report, however, efforts to save on housing expenses often lead to higher transportation costs, with the result that an even larger portion of household budgets are consumed by the combined burden of housing and transportation costs.
This report provides a comprehensive examination of the “cost of place” in the Washington, DC, region, presenting a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction look at the combined housing and transportation cost burdens for households in the metropolitan area. Drawing on the latest research and methodologies, estimates of household transportation costs are used to develop a new way of looking at the total cost of housing and the issue of housing affordability in the region.
Region-wide, households spend an average of nearly $23,000 per year on housing and $13,000 on transportation. Combined, these costs represent almost 47 percent of the median household income. These cost burdens vary significantly across the 22 jurisdictions. In some areas where households spend more on housing, they tend to spend less on transportation and vice versa. Across the metropolitan area, however, there are neighborhoods where households are saddled with both high housing and high transportation cost burdens.