October 8, 2013

The Real Cost of Suburbia

Rob Carrick in The Globe and Mail discusses cost numbers drawn up by David Hughes, a Toronto mortgage broker.

You can buy a house for less money in the suburbs than you can in a big city, but the cost of commuting may kill almost all your savings. …

Using the 2013 edition of the Canadian Automobile Association’s Driving Costs publication (pdf) as a guide, he set the annual cost of commuting at $9,500 a vehicle, or $19,000 for a pair. …  The downtown household pays $6,000 annually for a pair of monthly transit passes and occasional use of taxis, car rentals or car sharing. …

Let’s add up what happens over 40 years – 25 with a mortgage and 15 afterward. The suburban household pays a total of $1.3-million on mortgage principal and interest and transportation. The downtown household pays just a little bit less – $33,865, to exact.

If you plan to live outside the city where you work, commuting costs must be part of your housing affordability analysis. Mr. Hughes said he delicately makes this point to clients that come in with thoughts of suburban living. “I don’t want to see anyone impoverished by their choice.”

Ken Ohrn notes: “Oddly, there is no treatment of societal costs to maintain road, freeway and bridges, or of time lost sitting in a car,  even though such time losses loom large in governmental justifications of more commuter infrastructure.  Climate change and health implications are likewise absent.”


Looking at the real-estate aspect from an American perspective, another pundit makes possibly an overstated case for the ‘Death of the Suburbs’:

Sam Zell

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  1. In addition to everything Ken said the true cost of suburbia should should include things like loss of farmland and green space.

    Commuting time is a very interesting topic. I live in Vancouver and take the bus downtown. I have colleagues in the suburbs close to SkyTrain who spend less time commuting than I do. They’re also paying substantially less to the bank each month too, but we all make our own choices for our own reasons.