A study from the Center for Neighborhood Technology reverses traditional conclusions about the cost of housing.

The cash cost of buying a home tends to be much lower in distant suburbs than close to the urban center.

But the CNT study found that transportation costs increase dramatically in outlying areas because of the dispersal of jobs, shopping and other amenities.

CNT President Scott Bernstein said, “Once you factor in transportation costs, the bargain goes away,” because “transportation costs can be as much or more than housing costs.”

Evanston Housing + Transportation costs

While not all of Evanston is judged affordable by the study criteria, it is the only North Shore community with significant areas that were considered affordable.

That outcome, the study concludes, is a result of a combination of pockets of relatively inexpensive homes and apartments, ready access to public transportation, and population density that means everyday trips typically cover shorter distances.

Residents in transit-oriented neighborhoods in Evanston tend to have fewer cars per household than their suburban neighbors, often travel shorter distances to work and tend to have more jobs to choose from close to home.

The study website offers visitors the chance to explore maps showing several different factors contributing to living costs in communities in 52 different metro areas across the country.

The study, which analyzes U.S. Census data, was funded by The Brookings Institution’s Urban Market Initiative.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Interesting. My research shows that property taxes tend higher
    Using the numbers from City-Data.com, I found that the ten most dense suburbs in the area also have higher-than-average property taxes, which increase proportionate to density. It costs money to have more people living in a smaller area, and we need to compensate for this if we’re going to allow more dense housing.

    Municipality Property Taxes Population per square mile
    Stone Park 2.0% 15,378.2
    Cicero 1.7% 14,645.2
    Berwyn 1.9% 13,876.2
    Elmwood Park 1.8% 13,328.4
    Chicago 1.0% 12,750.3
    Oak Park 1.9% 11,173.4
    Harwood Heights 1.3% 10,094.4
    Maywood 1.8% 9,965.7
    Evanston 1.5% 9,584.1
    Hometown 1.3% 9,354.6

    Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and Michele Hays

    1. Jumping to conclusions
      Hi Michele,

      You list what you say are the ten most densely populated communities in Illinois.
      You show what you say are their property tax rates — which range from 1 to 2 percent — and do not appear to be ordered by density.
      Then you conclude that taxes are higher in dense communities.

      Higher than what?

      You’ve shown no evidence of what tax rates are in less dense communities.

      Therefore your conclusion is not supported by your data.

      From what you’ve presented, there’s no way to tell whether what you say is true or false.

      In any case, the CNT study included property taxes in its calculation of housing costs. See the explanation here.


      1. Define density
        Not sure how you’re defining density, Bill – but the suburbs are listed in decreasing order by population by square mile. Those figures were on an article you linked to a few days ago about the ten most densely populated cities in the area.

        Although the property taxes don’t directly correlate, Evanston’s taxes have always been described as “high” and in this case, when compared with population per square mile, are somewhere in the middle, with only the City of Chicago, Hometown, and Harwood Heights having a lower rate out of the ten. City-data.com lists property taxes as a percentage “per housing unit.” I don’t think I’m jumping to conclusions at all.

        Also, it would appear that as our population gets more dense, we are paying more taxes for what appears to be fewer services…while some of this can be traced to the pension problem, I’m not entirely convinced that it isn’t because we have more people to pay for.

        Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and Michele Hays

        1. The data destroys your argument
          So Michele, you are convinced that density causes high tax rates.

          You say that the source you cite says that Evanston, with a density of 9,584 people per square mile, has a median property tax rate on housing units of 1.5%

          So let’s look at data from the same source for a few nearby towns with lower population densities:

          Morton Grove — tax rate: 1.5%; population per square mile: 4,358.

          Park Ridge — tax rate: 1.5%; population per square mile: 5,262.

          Skokie — tax rate: 1.5%; population per square mile: 6,441.

          Oops — your data source says all three have the same tax rate as Evanston — even though they have two-thirds to half as many people per square mile.

          And, the same source says the AVERAGE property tax rate across all of Illinois is 1.7 percent — higher than the rate in Evanston.

          Poof! Your argument vanishes.

          Now, I’ve never seen the source you cite before, and I have no idea whether its data is accurate. But it certainly doesn’t support the argument you are trying to use it to make.

          — Bill

  2. housing and transportation costs
    Bill, there is not enough data, nor is there a distribution. I assume those are supposedly median values, but unless we know what form the distribution is, the median could be skewed.

    The % tax rate is meaningless unless we know the distribution and actual magnitude of housing costs.

    Looking at the map, it appears that Dempster is a dividing line, yet I cannot fathom why a house being across the street goes into the higher or lower cost area. Unless of course there are very expensive or inexpensive houses that would then skew the median.

    The Caltrava spire in Chicago is very high density — does that mean that housing costs are low? Or are they so expensive that transportation costs are insignificant when ratioed?



    1. Try digging into the data
      Hi Vito,
      If you would take the time to take a look at the CNT website that reports the data you might achieve the deeper understanding you profess to be after.

      As for Dempster as a dividing line, if you read the legend on the map in the story you’d understand that the data is aggregated by census block groups.

      If you were to download the census block map from the city’s web site, you’d discover that there is a block group boundary along Dempster Street.


      1. CNT Data

        I did look at the data and it has the usual problem of massed data. Unless you analyze the data and see what form of distribution it is, as well as understand what the data signifies. Tax rate as a % does not tell you the magnitude of taxes relative to other suburbs. You may have a lower tax rate but pay higher taxes if your homes are assessed higher. Similarly if magnitude of housing costs are high, transportation costs as a % become lower. Also if you have some high priced homes in that census block, that could skew results.

        As Mark Twain said, there are ” lies, damn lies and statistics.” I had a statistics prof at the U of C who drummed that into us and as a consequence I am very leery of conclusions unless I have vetted the data.

        Push for higher density, that is your choice, I remain unconvinced.


  3. Density = high tax rates? I don’t think so
    I seriously doubt density has little effect on tax rate – The articles use many variables – Michele should know the real cause of the high tax rate is the amount of government. Evanston – has a double problem – most of the suburbs michele listed have a lower propety assessment – we have both high assessement and high tax rate.

    With the every increasing cost of transportation – the near suburbs or where people work and were they live will be more and more important.

    What also is interesting the affordable housing crowd wants as all to believe Evanston is not affordable thus they need more of our tax dollars to pay for their programs which are just increasing our taxes – interestingly this study points to Evanston as a place with affordable housing – just like the state program on affordable housing pointed to the fact Evanston had 25% of its housing stock affordable. ( 15% more than than the 10% minimum ) But what did our council do pass an affordable housing fee on developer – and now they are looking at an impact fee since they have little to pay for public works programs. Too little too late.

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