UPDATE 2024/01/04: This post originally appeared on my Civility and Truth Substack newsletter. I’ve moved it to my main site in an effort to collect all of my writing in one place.

After writing something I almost always think of things I wanted to say but didn’t have the time or space for. So it was with my last post touching on housing affordability issues in Howard County. Here are a couple of random follow-up comments,:

School redistricting and housing affordability

I have for the most part stayed out of directly commenting on the current controversy on school redistricting in Howard County. My family is not directly affected by it since we don’t have a child in the public school system, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to do the sort of in-depth research I normally feel is necessary before I make public comments on my blog or elsewhere.

However I did at least obliquely comment on the issue in my post “Moving to opportunity in Howard County.” To recap briefly, I suspect supporters of the superintendent’s proposed redistricting plan are likely over optimistic as to how much of a real difference the plan would actually make in the lives of students, especially students already in high school. (I think one could make a stronger case for redistricting at the elementary school level.) At the same time I definitely believe opponents of the plan downplay the extent to which the current situation is the result of deliberate government “social engineering” that has the effect of isolating lower-income households geographically and discouraging their living in Howard County.

Some people claim that rather than redistricting the school system we should be instead focusing on issues of housing affordability, making sure that lower-income households are able to live in any part of the county and take advantages of the schools in those areas. That’s a perfectly legitimate opinion to hold, and I look forward to seeing these people work to build political support for concrete proposals to do just that.

The “no public transit” argument against affordable housing

Still on the topic of affordable housing, Tom Coale (who is variously an attorney representing developers, a progressive activist, and co-host of the Elevate Maryland podcast), recently tweeted, “Time after time, inadequate public transportation is used as an excuse to reject affordable [housing] projects,” and claimed that “The median income in certain parts of Maryland is high enough that those eligible for affordable housing, based on percentage of median [income], make enough to own a car, but not enough to pay for housing.”

As it happened, that tied in nicely with the analysis I had been doing on new vehicle sales, and so I tweeted in response. To expand a bit on my comment:

The median new vehicle price is around $35,000, and according to the affordability criterion I used (the vehicle price should be no more than 50% of pre-tax income) such a median vehicle should be affordable to a household making $70,000 a year. Although such an income is above the US median income of approximately $62,000 a year, it is well below the Howard County median income of almost $120,000 a year, and so it’s quite possible such a household would have difficulty affording housing in the county.

If we turn to households making between $25,000 and $50,000, they should be able to afford a single vehicle worth $12,000 to $25,000, used or even new. They could even probably afford two high-mileage used vehicles. But, again, they would almost certainly have problems affording housing in Howard County.

The result is that, as Coales tweeted, “There is no record of people being ‘stranded’ because we built affordable housing without a bus route.” As he also pointed out, housing affordability is a problem across the state, even in areas where people absolutely need a vehicle to get around, and presumably are able to afford one one way or the other.

That’s it for follow-up for today, though I may have some additional comments later.