Wednesday, April 28

The H&T Index is not "muddled" at all

Wendell Cox thinks he has poked a hole in the Housing and Transportation Index from the Center of Neighborhood Technology:

"The H and T Index is particularly susceptible to misinterpretation by ideological interests contemptuous of America's suburban lifestyle, who would use public policy to force people to live in higher densities. While the H and T Index reports data at the neighborhood level, it is not a neighborhood index. However, the H and T Index does not compare neighborhood housing and transportation costs with neighborhood incomes. Rather, the H and T Index uses the metropolitan median household income."
Cox thinks a true "neighborhood index," as he phrases it, would grab the income number for each block group instead of fixing it for the whole metro area. This would be an accurate portrayal of the housing and transportation cost burden being felt by the current residents of the block group.

However, Cox's alternative quickly descends into absurdity as a measure of affordability, which is the question that an affordability index is naturally asking. For instance, it's quite possible that Cox would have to consider the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles County to be affordable, simply because the preponderance of it's uber-weathy denizens happen to have plenty of money to afford living there. We all know that different income groups separate themselves out according to their ability to pay - indeed this is the definition of exclusivity - but the point of the affordability question is to ask how the rest of us would fare in the particular location. Someone finds a job (income is now fixed) and wants to know where within the metro area she can afford to live. That's the question being asked.

All of the peer-review mechanisms we have don't share Cox's problem with the methodology. From the CNT report on the index, Penny Wise Pound Fuelish.
"The H+T Index represents a body of research spanning 20 years that has evolved from location efficiency research in the late 1990s to its vetting in 2008 by transportation experts and subsequent publication in the Transportation Research Record, the Journal of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies."
Perhaps Cox is so diligently watching out for those "ideological interests contemptuous of America's suburban lifestyle" that he doesn't want to see even accurate data give them any crazy ideas. Besides, as Cox sees it, automobiles are about to get a whole lot more affordable for Americans anyway:
Transportation costs will be reduced in the future by the far more fuel efficient vehicles being required by Washington.”
I'm tempted to just let this quote sit as a beautiful testament to the desperation of Cox's ideological position, but I can't pass up the chance to hand this one over to Michael Lewyn.
"In other words, don't worry about Americans being impoverished by the cost of a car for every man, woman, and 16-year old in the House: the technological miracle of fuel efficiency will save us.  

Now, this argument has a grain of truth: new EPA regulations will require the average vehicle to get 35 miles per gallon by 2016, so cars will become somewhat more fuel efficient if next year's Republican Congress or the federal courts don't get in the way.  But even so, the benefits of fuel efficiency may be canceled out by gasoline price rises - and even if they don't, gasoline costs comprise only about 30 percent of vehicle-related expenses. In 2007 the average household spent $2384 on gasoline and motor oil, $3244 on car purchases, and $2592 on other vehicle-related expenses ...

Tomorrow's Wonder Cars of the Future will drive the problem away."


Anna B said...

Great find and critique - of course anyone who already lives in a neighborhood can afford it! Problem solved!
I would be interested to see those measures even on a block level, however... given how much unemployment and foreclosure activity would have rendered apparently-affordable homes problematic since 2008.

Anonymous said...

The H&T Index is really pretty and has lots of detailed information. For that I find it very useful. That said it does do a really poor job of explaining how it comes up with its information. It really should have better disclosure of what is included in its data sets and what different items in its data sets mean.

The point you are missing is that the H&T data tend to obfusicate the issues of housing unaffordability for the very poor in the neighborhoods with lots of poor people. When the database uses average income for the region in the database it makes it seem like the poor have no problems with housing affordibility, thus we can cut back on the need to provide as much housing for the poor.