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The Cost of Commuting: Living in the ’Burbs

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September 04, 2019

There are many reasons why Canadians choose to move to suburban neighbourhoods. For many, it’s the opportunity to have a sizable yard, quiet streets and more affordable houses. But is the affordability claim a myth? Are suburbanites really saving that much money living outside the urban centres and downtown cores?

Let’s examine what the costs of living in the ’burbs truly are.

The cases of Vancouver and Toronto

The cities of Toronto and Vancouver have been brought up time and time again as prime examples of housing unaffordability. That said, they cannot be compared to American cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, because of their suburbs.

There used to be a belief that one could “drive till you qualify,” meaning if you drove outside of the heart of Toronto or Vancouver you’d eventually end up in an affordable suburb. This is becoming less and less the case.

Studies have shown that the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver offer discounts of only 20 to 24 per cent on the cost of housing. To compare, in New York City that percentage is over 50.

Unsustainable trend

While most people cannot afford to live in Manhattan, New Yorkers can still afford to live close enough to the core to work there. Because the suburbs of NYC are much more affordable, the city can keep a workforce of professionals and service workers.

Toronto, however, has expensive suburbs. While they’re still slightly cheaper than the city itself, many young and working-class people are priced out of the market. Without affordable homes, millennials and minimum-wage-earners will have to move farther and farther away from the city, taking away a crucial workforce.

The cost of the commute

As the bulk of well-paying jobs remain in the larger cities, it will become harder and harder for the workers to commute. Unless base salaries increase by a significant amount, many people looking for entry-level work won’t be able to afford to live near their jobs. The farther they have to go to find affordable housing, the pricier the commute gets. Driving costs add up with gas, car repairs and insurance. Transit costs less money, but the farther away you are, the higher the fares are and the longer the routes.

There are also the personal costs. What you don’t pay in dollars you pay in time. Time spent in the car, or on the train or bus, takes away time spent with family and friends and doing things you love. The personal costs subtract from your quality of life – which can cause burnout.

What does this mean?

More people might have to start doing what they can to make it work in the city. The upside is that more people will give up their cars and rely on public transit to live where they work. Giving up your car saves money and is great for reducing carbon emissions.

High rent costs in the city are also not helping the situation. While this issue won’t completely drive the work force out of these major cities, some changes will need to be made in order to make living affordable for all income levels.

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