Center for Neighborhood Technology forum discusses cost of living solutions

Nicole Cobler

The Center for Neighborhood Technology held a city forum Friday to discuss the cost of housing and transportation in urban areas such as Austin.

One of the biggest issues presented in the forum was the high cost of housing in large cities. But according to Scott Bernstein, president and co-founder of the center, living more than 10 miles outside a city where housing costs less creates a whole new set of problems. These people have to spend more on transportation to get to work and other activities.

“The fact that the cost of living is going up higher than income is a big problem,” Bernstein said. “It’s our job to come up with disruptive ideas that will help build a more sustainable economy.”

The center, whose mission is to make city living more economically viable, focuses on transportation, water, energy and community development. They have also developed a Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which provides a comprehensive evaluation of the cost of living in a certain area.

To solve the housing and transportation affordability problem, the center is working to have transit expanded into areas of large cities that lack methods of public transportation. This will not only connect trains to people’s homes, but also to their workplaces.

Jennifer Steverson, a community and regional planning graduate student, learned about the center’s index through her economics class and uses it frequently.

Steverson said Austin’s cost of living does not feel too high to her after having lived in New York, but that it would still be difficult to be a working parent here.

“Austin is more affordable for students because they have a network of financial resources such as student loans,” Steverson said.

Steverson does not have a car, so she said she understands the importance of public transportation. By riding the bus or her bike every day, her cost of living is lower than that of someone with a car.

Kelly Nichols, policy and planning manager for Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Development Office, who attended the forum, said she was highly interested in the center’s goals and methods.

“I would love to look at ways to decrease household transportation costs,” Nichols said. 

Nichols said the city forum not only helped her expand her professional knowledge about the housing and transportation affordability index, but was also helpful on a personal basis.

The center is not working on any projects in Austin, but it is planning a free community event called 100 Ideas for a More Affordable Austin on Saturday.