Housing near jobs: theory vs. realityOne of the common planning mantras you'll hear is getting people to live closer to where they work in order to reduce congestion, commutes, and energy use. It's called "jobs-housing balance", and this article from Seattle based on recently released Census data talks about why it doesn't seem to work.
The article also talks about issues of housing affordability, quality of the schools, and people not wanting to uproot their family to take a new job. There are a lot of factors that go into peoples' choice of where they live, and closeness to work is only one relatively small factor in the decision. The general pattern seems to be that people buy the best value house they can in the best school district possible within about a half-hour commute of the job(s) in the household, and that tends to be closer to the far end of that commute range in most metros. That's not to say that offering more residential options near job centers is a bad thing (and improving urban school districts would certainly be a very good thing), but the impact is likely to be marginal at best.
Only about 40 percent of the workers who live in Redmond — a city where jobs greatly outnumber residents — also work there, according to the Census Bureau. For Tukwila, another regional job magnet, that figure is even smaller: just 17 percent.
About three-quarters of the residents of Issaquah, Renton and Kent who work, earn their living in another town.
In the 1980s, a concept called "jobs-housing balance" arose in urban-planning circles.
If government policies promoted building new houses, condos and apartments close to offices, stores and factories, the thinking went, people would commute shorter distances and be more likely to walk, bike or take the bus to work.
Traffic and air quality would improve. Energy consumption would plummet.
The census estimates for places like Redmond and Issaquah suggest "there are limits to that notion, and they should be recognized," says Dan Carlson, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs who studies transportation and land use.
People versus planners
In other words: People don't necessarily do what planners think they will.
...The census estimates indicate Enumclaw may have the best jobs-housing balance in the region. About 4,700 people work inside the city limits. About 4,800 workers live there.
For the most part, however, they're not the same people.
More than 70 percent of Enumclaw's working residents commute to out-of-town jobs. And more than 70 percent of the people who work in Enumclaw live somewhere else....
Their decisions reflect regional and national trends: more two-income households, more frequent job changes.
They also reflect personal preferences that are stronger than any aversion to longer commutes.