Home buyers are moving closer to public transit

The HealthLine rapid transit bus in Cleveland. It is a 9.2 mile bus route that connects downtown Cleveland to East Cleveland, where there are several hospitals.


Kai Ryssdal: While he was standing in the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, Ed Glaeser offered a quick tutorial about how important centralized transportation was to the rise of American cities. Railroads and rivers back then.

An analogy for today might be modern transit lines. Moving people, not things. Because even though a nice house out in the suburbs with a white picket fence and all is the prototypical American dream, truth is, a lot of home buyers are voting with their feet and choosing to live within walking distance of public transit.

From public radio's Transportation Nation project at WNYC, Andrea Bernstein reports.

Andrea Bernstein: In 1977, when 11-year-old Terry Alexander moved with his parents and younger sister to Park Slope, Brooklyn, the city's population was rapidly contracting. Whites, in particular, were fleeing the city for the suburbs. But Alexander, who is African American, moved with his family from the Manhattan projects to a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In those days, no one could understand why.

In word, it was:

Terry Alexander: Horrible. There were many stabbings and fights.

Alexander still lives in the house he grew up in. Today, it's one of the toniest neighborhoods in New York City, just a 20-minute subway ride from Manhattan.

Alexander: Mom, I love you, but you were dead wrong. This once.

In 1977, the Alexander home cost $68,000. Today, it's worth more than $2 million. Turns out this pattern is a national phenomenon.

Chris Leinberger, a University of Michigan professor and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, says you can see it in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C.

He gestures to a gorgeous town house in Dupont Circle, with a detailed balcony and an impeccably trimmed Japanese maple out front. But Leinberger says it's not the nice touches pushing up the home's value. It's the proximity to Washington's transit system, the Metro.

Chris Leinberger: Within walking distance of transit, we're seeing anywhere from a 40 to 200 percent price premium. The market is willing to pay 40 percent more to three times more.

After the housing bubble burst in 2007, Leinberger says homes in neighborhoods around the country like Park Slope and Dupont Circle largely held their value. Census figures show that in the last 10 years, these neighborhoods have become increasingly white.

We drive 45 minutes outside D.C., beyond the borders of the Metro to Prince George's County in Maryland, In this area, the population is two-thirds black.

Leinberger: We're now looking for Fairview Vista.

We drive through a suburban subdivision with large new homes. They've got two-car garages, brick details and window shutters. We stop in front of one on a quarter-acre lot. Its value: $365,000, one-fifth as much as the Dupont Circle row-house.

Leinberger: This is a car-dependent house. You cannot live here without taking your car to literally every trip from your home.

As Americans increasingly choose to live near transit, the value of homes like this has plummeted -- 60 percent since the year 2000.

Leinberger: The bulk of the mortgage meltdown took place here. It didn't take place in Dupont.

To be sure, not everyone wants to live in cities. The suburban ideal still has a hold on some. After immigrating from Haiti, Petrice Previlon move to an urban area in New York City. Then, he moved with his four children out to a Long Island suburb with no transit.

Petrice Previlon: I love peace and quiet, that's why I moved to Elmont. Elmont is a very residential area. It's a very good place to raise kids. That's why I live in Elmont.

But still, Leinberger says, even in more established suburbs, homes have lost value in the last several years. And with gas prices rising and families getting smaller, he says it's a trend that's likely to continue.

In New York, I'm Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

Andrea Bernstein's story on the value of transit was adapted from the American Radioworks and Transportation Nation documentary "Back of the Bus."

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I don't think the issue here is about which state is poor or has bad infrastructure. No matter where in the world you're going to be, it's really going to be about how accessible is everything that you require as a human being. There are tonnes of people who live off-the-grid and self-sufficient in Australia and New Zealand because they have made provisions for themselves in air, food and water, and have adequate storage for such things. I truly believe that this is just some ploy to make us all dependant on the system instead of independent human beings http://www.supercheapstorage.com.au

It’s true. Transportation in the major cities in America has reached new importance ever since the economic crash of 2008. Many Americans having to give up their cars look into public transport. In inner city New York where driving is expensive, public transport is the only way to go, thus the iconic yellow cab. No longer are people looking for the biggest storage space in their house; suddenly the once dreamy American has become practical. There’s of course a new trend – self storage. These Americans store they items away until they hopefully get enough money to fund a bigger space for themselves.

The issues brought up are interesting and I do disagree with some people who posted but I do believe their points are valid for their individual situation, that being said I think we need to look at the problems holding back mass transit and thus necessitating subsides. One problem, but one we as Americans should be weary of trying to correct is the equal opportunity clause of the constitution, this means within a transit district all communities and populations need equal opportunities equal access, thus we get nearly empty busses in dead urban neighborhoods while commuters on the Brown line in Chicago have to wait for three or four trains to go by before they can squeeze on. The staggering cost of the Americans with Disabilities Act in retrofitting or maintaining infrastructure such as elevators is huge, but I would not want to prevent those citizens, many of whom are veterans, from getting to work school or whatever they need. So a part of the transit problem is the heavy burden our American ideals require us to bear. Another problem is poor choices in development and design, the ridership on the Chicago Ell for example is highest when temperatures are above 40 degrees one would surmise that it would be wise to spend some money on sheltering the station platforms since no one wants to stand in the rain wind and cold of Chicago winters while four trains go by packed. Also commercial opportunities at the transit stations are missed altogether, on average in June 60,000 people enter the Belmont station each day, just enter the CTA doesn’t count exits yet, can you imagine what retailers would be willing to pay to have that kind of traffic and that size of an audience for 10 to 15 minutes each day and that is just one station. We continue to blow money on inefficient solutions and upgrades to our existing infrastructure and we inhibit or worse prohibit the densities needed to optimize transit use. We need smart growth that works to accommodate the car dependant suburbs as well as the dense core, Park and ride systems such as on the blue Line in Chicago could be one way to reduce downtown congestion and save commuters a bundle on parking and lost time in traffic, but those examples are few and still need improvement to be attractive to the intrepid long haul commuter who moved out of the city for many reasons chief among them autonomy. A lot has to be done to make mass transit commuting attractive to the middle and upper class, they are the ones who can make or break a system and they are the ones with the most options.

@Tom Hurst
I don't know where you're getting your numbers, but they certainly not correct for any well-run transit system. For example, I ride the bus everyday, and there are never less than 20 people on it. In order to achieve your 15mpg per person figure, this means the bus will take more than 11 gallons of gas to go one mile. not true. I would also like to reiterate the point that if you are using roads, freeways, gasoline and ethanol, you are hardly operating without subsidy.

To the gentleman speaking of subsidies he fails to understand what would happen if there was no public transit. The days he wishes for were about 200 million people ago here in the US. Most American cities would be paralyzed with traffic without public transit options. Imagine the lost revenue from that.

@Tom Hurst
The roads you drive on were paid for by the government. Thus, you use government-subsidized transit.

@ Tom Hurst,

Marketplace is about economics and part of this report is about how urban homes near transit hold their value when the economy takes a dive, while car-dependant suburbs do not.

It sounds like you have a rural perspective, I lived on a farm for the first 18 years of my life, so I sympathize. I'd live there again, but my job is in the city...so I live in the city...and love it too!

Unchecked suburban growth, which is the direct result of massive and sustained government intervention through road building and minimum parking requirements has screwed our housing choices and made us perilously dependent on foreign oil.

No one is forcing us to move back to the city and ride transit...we want this lifestyle. The market is demanding housing that is closer to jobs, high quality schools, shopping and other destinations. This trend is good for rural areas because it means the pressure of suburban growth will subside and farmland and wilderness areas will be available for future generations. In-fill growth of cities is the salvation of the rural lifestyle. Suburban growth propped-up by government subsidies has been destroying it for more than 50 years. A growing number of us are finally saying "no thanks" to long commutes, sitting in traffic, a lack of transportation options, and lack of diversity that is BORING. I can't think of anything I find attractive about the suburbs.

Think of suburbs like fat in the human body, a little is healthy, too much and the whole body suffers from complications. Our cities are unhealthy with suburbs, and ironically our population has gotten more and more unhealthy as they have grown. I've had enough, and I'm not alone.

There is a natural symbiotic relationship between rural and urban that we are trying to return to. If we aren't living on a farm then we want an active, healthy, convenient lifestyle that doesn't make us dependent on a car. We want our food to come from farmers not factories, and we are voting with our feet and with our money. You may not understand it yet, but this is the latest incarnation of the American Dream. It just happens to be a more sustainable one.

Personally, I'd pay more to live far from government transit, for I value my liberty and my money. Indeed, it's sad that government has banished the "good ole days" when most people were independent and responsible enough to somehow get by without relying on the government for something as basic to their lives as transportation. Back then we bought a bike or a cheap used car, shared rides with friends, or perhaps just bit the bullet and arranged our lives so that work and shopping were close to home. The idea of some incompetent bureaucrat controlling when and where I can travel on their hyper-expensive, dirty, fuel inefficient, tax-subsidized buses truly disgusts me.

And since Marketplace is about economics, I would point out that public (government) transit systems do NOT pay off, for the average taxpayer subsidy for public buses is well over $20 for every $1 of fare they collect, and light rail gets double that subsidy. In plain English, that means that each and every time some poor soul rides a government bus for a mile or two, other citizen taxpayers are forced to pony up $20 in taxes to pay for the bus, fuel, driver, maintenance and administrative overhead. Even in a single day, that's a great deal of tax subsidy money. In fact, it's quite simple to calculate that with the same amount of money taxpayers use to subsidize regular riders of government buses ($40 per person per day or so for two rides), they could instead buy every regular bus rider a $15,000 car every 5 years, and pay them each $5,000 per year to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance expenses. Indeed, according to information from federal government websites, most government bus systems sport a per rider tax subsidy of at least several hundred thousand dollars over the life of the system, and some subsidies even approach an astounding $1 million per rider. Amazing, eh? And, again from federal data online, the average per person mileage of a public bus is about 15 mpg. Jeesh, I get that in my truck, and double that if I have but one additional passenger. So, the economics of the government bus or the government train just don't work.

See this article on the new census numbers for Chicage: Demographic Reality: Massive Exurbanization Much has been made of Chicago's legitimate and real urban core renaissance, but the cold reality remains that this is one of America's most sprawling regions. Regional growth continued to be heavily focused not in the city or established inner suburbs, but the exurbs. Kendall County more than doubled in population, and counties like Grundy, Boone, and Kane also made the top five in the state. Cook County, which is about half made up of the city of Chicago, as a whole actually lost population. And traditional suburban powerhouse DuPage has flattened, while Lake County, Illinois fell just short of the national average in growth. During the last decade, a net of over 25,000 people moved from metro Chicago to metro Rockford, making that city the #2 destination for those leaving Chicagoland. Given that Rockford is hardly an economic mecca, clearly exurbanization is spreading far beyond traditional metro boundaries. Sprawl of the most intense kind is alive and well in Chicagoland. http://www.newgeography.com/content/002057-chicago-takes-a-census-shella...

The problem with Transit at the moment is that people aren't willing to give up their cars yet. It's a chicken and egg problem on a massive scale.

Governments don't want to invest money on providing public transit when so many people want that money invested elsewhere and have cars, so they invest a small amount, which isn't enough, and the project fails to attract enough ridership. People see this repeated over and over and think it is a waste of time and that they can only count on providing their own trasportation. This cycle perpetuates over and over so that transit agencies are seen as the "poor" way to get around, how often have you seen a job ad with the words "must have reliable transportation"?

In defense of how a reliable use of public transit I would look at ASUCD Unitrans in Davis, Ca. The majority of the fleet runs on natural gas and the entire fleet has been hooked up to GPS so that riders can see online in real time if their bus is running late. The system is run by the student government at UCDAVIS, employs mostly students, and provides rides to 20,000 people a day or 3 million a year. At the busiest times of the day 4 buses can run the same exat line and hour with each bus moving 70-100 people, and the double decker buses can move more.

As for real estate being affected by access to this service, oh yeah it makes a difference. If an apartment complex doesn't have a bus stop within a block or two then students are probably going to look elsewhere unless the amenities make up for it. The same goes for renting a house.


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