Saturday, March 28, 2009

Depends on What You Mean By Affordable

Kristian Gravenor posted a link to the annual Demographia survey of housing affordability on his Coolopolis blog. It caught my eye, not least because the big thinkers at Demographia have listed Montreal among the cities where housing affordability has decreased in the last year. In fact, they say Montreal has tipped into the category of seriously unaffordable.
The 5th edition of the survey measures affordability by looking at typical income and typical mortgage and asking how long it would take to pay one off using the other. Montreal's median multiplier is 4.6 - that's how many year's salary it would take to pay off the typical mortgage here. Last year, the Montreal median multiplier was 3.9, according to Demographia.
It's very early and I've only had one cup of coffee, but I've got to pick a few holes in their conclusions. First of all, about biases. Demographia is unabashedly pro development.The argument articulated by survey author Dr. Shlomo Angel (NYU and Princeton) is that by embracing "smart" growth, cities raise the cost of development and put home ownership out of reach. If Demographia had its way, more cities would allow developers to run with the ball. They think sprawl is a good thing.
If you look at the 10 most affordable cities, where the median multiplier is under 2.2 (ie:, it will requires a little more than two years' salary to pay off a mortgage) you find a preponderance of hollowed out Rust Belt communities - Youngstown, Canton and Toldeo, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Flint and Lansing, Michigan.
Can anyone seriously argue that these cities are paragons of affordability? I mean, people are auctioning houses on eBay for $1 in some of these places.
Montreal, unaffordable? In this town, the average homeowner devotes 39 per cent of gross income to paying housing costs. I'll take it. Let's leave the silly surveys on the shelf.

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