All posts in “Walkability”

12 Cities Where You Can Live Affordably in a Walkable Neighborhood

Living in a walkable neighborhood can save you a lot of money, particularly in savings on car costs. But with rents skyrocketing in many parts of the country, sometimes it feels like affordable rent and walkability go together like chocolate and salsa (hello, $4500 studio in San Francisco).

In the face of these sometimes dismal rent numbers, we decided to find the places in the country where you can live a walkable, urban lifestyle – affordably.  To answer this question, we looked at Walk Score data, Cost of Living Index, and average rents for every major city in the country. And, in all of the cities listed below, there’s a nice selection of one bedroom apartments located in Walker’s Paradise neighborhoods (meaning a Walk Score of 90+) listed on our apartment search for $1000 or less. Take a look at our top 12 picks for affordable and walkable cities:

Buffalo1.  Buffalo, NY

Despite, the long, cold winters,  this once-great industrial hub in upstate New York is home to a vibrant community of young professionals and students in walkable areas like Bryant and Front Park. Located where the Niagara River flows out of Lake Erie, Buffalo boasts great nightlife, an emerging dining scene, and neighborhoods with a strong sense of community.

 

St. Louis2.  St. Louis, MO

Home of the Gateway Arch and the Cardinals, this Midwestern city boasts not only walkable neighborhoods and affordable rent, but also plenty of free activities. Forest Park, the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, houses a free zoo and world-class art museum. Walkable neighborhoods such as the revitalized Downtown, the Central West End, and the Delmar Loop offer a variety of apartments at affordable prices.

 

Rochester3.  Rochester, NY

On the shores of Lake Ontario, Rochester brings together small-town charm with world-class culture. Even in the winter, when snow is high and temperatures are low, walkers can navigate downtown in the Rochester Skyway, a system of enclosed walkways. Residents, many of whom live in walkable neighborhoods like Pearl-Meigs-Monroe and Park Avenue, can also jump in a car share and head out for a day trip to the gorgeous Finger Lakes, a major wine-growing region.

 

Chicago

4.  Chicago, IL

Although the Windy City may not immediately seem like an affordable home, prices are well below those in comparable large US cities – we found tons of Walker’s Paradise apartments for less than $1000 a month, especially in neighborhoods like Lake View, Uptown, and Hyde Park. Chicago’s many walkable neighborhoods (seriously, there are 28 with a Walk Score of 90+) are connected by one of the country’s best public transit systems.

 

Pittsburgh

5.  Pittsburgh, PA

Famous as the center of the steel industry in the 19th century, Pittsburgh is located where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join the Ohio River. Pittsburgh’s landscape is defined by waterways, hills, and bridges connecting walkable neighborhoods such as the Central Business District and the Southside Flats. A vibrant music scene, passionate Steelers fans, plentiful students, and a lively culinary scene come together in this surprisingly hip and liveable city.

 

Minneapolis6.  Minneapolis, MN

One of the Twin Cities, together with nearby St. Paul, Minneapolis is known as the city of lakes. Although average rent is higher than some cities, there are plenty of affordable places to be found in Lowry Hill East, Whittier, and Loring Park, and with a bike score of 79, this city is the most bikeable city (with a population over 200,000) in the country.

 

Milwaukee7.  Milwaukee, WI

Known for its breweries and its avid sports fans, Milwaukee sits on the Western coast of Lake Michigan. Locals flock to Brady Street on the Lower East Side for independent coffee houses and shopping, and foodies love the indoor Milwaukee Public Market in Juneau Town.

 

Cleveland8.  Cleveland, OH

Yet another town on the Great Lakes that is both affordable and walkable, Cleveland is located on the shores of Lake Erie. The Downtown neighborhood is in the midst of a revival, making this a great place for urbanites on a budget.

 

 

Baltimore

9.  Baltimore, MD

This Maryland city may be near D.C., but Baltimore has a character all of its own. Home to the world renowned Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as well as the Baltimore Orioles, this city has something for everyone. Neighborhoods like Mount Vernon, Seton Hill, and Charles Village offer walkable and affordable apartments, and for those who love to live in a walkable city but still experience nature, Gwynns Falls Trail is an excellent example of an urban trail system.

 

Dallas

10.  Dallas, TX

Texas may not be known for a car-free lifestyle (and, to be fair, none of Texas’s main cities have an impressive overall Walk Score), but Dallas has a surprisingly walkable city center with plenty of affordable places to live around the Main Street District, the Farmers Market District, and the Government District.

 

Richmond11.  Richmond, VA

First settled in 1607, Virginia’s capital city is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Now, residents can enjoy the historic Shockoe Bottom area and beautiful Edwardian architecture in The Fan district, as well as a quick walk to work at any of 60 public and private companies in the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park.

 

Sacramento12.  Sacramento, CA

The hub of California politics, Sacramento is one city in the Sunny State where affordable rent isn’t out of the question. With beautiful weather year round, residents of Sacramento can enjoy affordable rent and a walkable lifestyle in neighborhoods like Boulevard Park and Mansion Flats. To top it off, they can jump in a car share and get to the Napa Valley or even Lake Tahoe in less than two hours.

 

Runners Up:  Providence, RI and Philadelphia, PA

Both these lovely cities are highly walkable and actually have a good number of apartments in our price range (under $1000 for a 1 bedroom in a Walker’s Paradise), but the overall high average cost of living index meant they got relegated to runners-up.

 

Crime Grade for Homes and Apartments

A high Walk Score tells you that you’re close to the people and places you love. But is the neighborhood safe from crime?

Today we’re announcing Crime Grade, the first measure of crime safety for a home or apartment that accurately measures your personal risk.  Crime Grade is an A – D rating that tells you how likely you are to be affected by crime.

Crime Grade is an A-D rating for an address.

Crime Grade is an A—D rating for an address.

Why Does it Matter?

Crime safety is a top concern for people looking for apartments and shopping for homes. What matters most is your per capita risk of being affected by crime.  Other crime maps and statistics often make walkable neighborhoods with lots of people (e.g. Downtowns) seem unsafe because they only measure how many crimes are reported — not the per capita crime rate.

The Walk Score Crime Grade is computed using a patent-pending system that aggregates crimes near an address and weights crimes by severity and distance.  We calculate a per capita crime rate for an address based on the total population (residents and workers) in the area.  Crime rates are then compared against city-wide rates and converted into a letter grade. We have a separate Crime Grade for personal crime (e.g. robbery or violent crime that affects a person) and property crime (e.g. burglary or theft that affects property). This allows you to accurately compare your crime risk between addresses in a city.

For example, below are two maps of crime in Chicago. The map on the left shows reported crimes and makes Downtown Chicago appear quite dangerous.  The Walk Score crime map on the right shows the Crime Grade (e.g. your per capita risk of being affected by crime) in this area. Although there are a lot of crimes reported in Downtown Chicago, there are so many people that your personal risk is still low.

Crime Maps

Available for Every Address in 16 Cities

Crime Grades are available in the 16 cities listed below where police departments make their crime reports publicly available:

Crime Grades are available today on all Walk Score apartment and rental listings in the cities above and will be rolling out to every address in these cities soon.  If you want to get your Crime Grade right away, just tweet @walkscore with your address and we’ll send you a link to your Crime Grade.

We’ve been working on our Crime Grade methodology for over a year.  We initially launched neighborhood crime comparisons in the summer of 2013. Please send us your feedback, we’d love to hear what you think.

 

Walkable Summer Reads

"Reading’tis the season for the summer reading list! After watching this TEDx talk  (The Suburbs are Dying, so Let’s Create a New American Dream), I hunted down Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs. I liked the way she spoke about the shift in what the American Dream means to those looking for a home today, so I wanted to hear more of her ideas.

“In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.”

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening around the idea of walkable cities — and walking in general — we’ve compiled a handful of good reads to keep you occupied:

  • Walkable City by Jeff Speck: Speck is an urban planner and advocate for sustainable growth. His book tackles both the process and the benefits of growing cities that fully embrace walkability as a value. (Note:  I follow Jeff on Twitter and he posts great links to interesting shorter web reads, too.)

    “Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walkable City—bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban change happens—lays out a practical, necessary, and inspiring vision for how to make American cities great again.”

  • Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit: A history of walking, that most human of activities. Solnit’s book features poets and ramblers and philosphers and takes us walking in  — can you believe it? — Las Vegas.

    “What does it mean to be out walking in the world, whether in a landscape or a metropolis, on a pilgrimage or a protest march? In this first general history of walking, Rebecca Solnit draws together many histories to create a range of possibilities for this most basic act.”

  • The Option of Urbanism by Christopher B. Leinberger: What made the car dependent suburbs so popular and how does the US government continue to favor suburban development? Leinberger examines the intersection of politics, development and sustainability.

    “In The Option of Urbanism visionary developer and strategist Christopher B. Leinberger explains why government policies have tilted the playing field toward one form of development over the last sixty years: the drivable suburb. Rooted in the driving forces of the economy—car manufacturing and the oil industry—this type of growth has fostered the decline of community, contributed to urban decay, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and contributed to the rise in obesity and asthma.”

  • Unlocking Home by Alan Durning: A look at how zoning and regulations are limiting housing options, slowing the development of the kind of density that makes for great walkable cities, and as an unfortunate by product, limiting affordable housing.

    “Hidden in city regulations is a set of simple but powerful barriers to affordable housing for all. These rules criminalize history’s answers to affordable dwellings: the rooming house, the roommate, the in-law apartment, and the backyard cottage. In effect, cities have banned what used to be the bottom end of the private housing market. They’ve made urban quarters expensive and scarce, especially for low-income people such as students, seniors, blue-collar workers, artists, and others who make our cities diverse and vibrant.”

  • Completing Our Streets by Barbara McCann: Barbara McCann founded the National Complete Streets Coalition, an organization that advocates that streets are not just for cars, they’re for transit, cyclists, and pedestrians too. Her book is a practical take on how to work for Complete Streets in your community.

    “The complete streets movement is based around a simple idea: streets should be safe for people of all ages and abilities, whether they are walking, driving, bicycling, or taking the bus. Completing Our Streets gives practitioners and activists the strategies, tools, and inspiration needed to translate this idea into real and lasting change in their communities.”

Did we leave anything out?

And a safety warning to keep you on your feet — don’t walk and read, kids! The worst ankle injury I’ve ever had was because I was reading and walking at the same time.

Reading is good. Walking is good. Do both, just not at the same time.

Image: Reading in Central Park via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Do You Live in a Food Desert?

A food desert is a neighborhood without access to healthy food.  Why does this matter? Living in a food desert can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease1.

Walk Score helps you make more informed decisions about where to live, like finding an apartment within walking distance of a grocery store.

Many cities are making access to healthy food part of their general plans.  For example, Washington D.C.’s sustainability plan sets a goal of having 75% of residents within a 5 minute walk of healthy food.

But how many people can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes?

Today, we’re announcing a new ranking of the best and worst U.S. cities for access to food based on our database of local places and our Travel Time API and ChoiceMaps technology.

The Best Cities for Food Access

Our ranking measures access to healthy food by calculating the percent of people in a city who can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes.  The ranking below includes U.S. cities with more than 500,000 residents.

The best cities for access to healthy food are:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 New York 72%
2 San Francisco 59%
3 Philadelphia 57%
4 Boston 45%
5 Washington D.C. 41%
The best and worst cities for food access.

The best and worst large cities for food access.
Areas in green indicate where you can walk to a grocery store in 5 mins.

The Worst Cities for Food Access

The following cities have the lowest percentage of people who can walk to a grocery store within 5 minutes:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 Indianapolis 5%
2 Oklahoma City 5%
3 Charlotte 6%
4 Tucscon 6%
5 Albuquerque 7%

Don’t See Your City? Urban planners and researchers, please contact us to unlock your city.

Methodology

To calculate the percent of residents in a city with access to healthy food we use a variety of data sources and technologies.  Our population data and city boundaries come from the U.S. Census. Our list of grocery stores comes from a mix of Google, Localeze, and places added via the Walk Score website. We calculated millions of walking routes for this ranking with our Travel Time API.

Our goal is to only include grocery stores that sell produce.  We filter out convenience stores with a combination of algorithmic filters and crowdsourcing.  That said, it’s harder than it sounds to get a clean list of grocery stores.  If you see a convenience store miscategorized as a grocery store, please click the “Edit place” link and help us improve our data quality.

Our rankings are proximity based and do not include the cost of food.  Some studies have shown that shoppers select supermarkets based on price as well as proximity2.  For example, people with lower incomes may travel farther to shop at a cheaper grocery store.

Unlike other food desert maps, our maps are dynamic and updated in real-time as our database of underlying grocery stores changes.

Walk Score Data for Your City, County or State 

Walk Score data is being used by a growing number of cities and planning districts.  “The City of San Jose is using Walk Score data to start tracking performance metrics for our general plan such as how many people can walk to fresh food and parks,” said Joseph Horwedel, Deputy City Manager of San Jose.

Walk Score offers data in spreadsheet or shapefile format for every address in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.  We have also aggregated our data for every city and ZIP code in the U.S.

Planners, researchers, and analysts are using Walk Score in a variety of ways:

Contact us to learn more about using Walk Score data in your research and analysis and watch this video to learn more about Walk Score ChoiceMaps:

A Look Back at 2013: More Data for More Places

Number of websites using Walk Score

Number of websites using Walk Score

2013 was another exciting year for Walk Score. We expanded our network to over 30,000 real estate sites across which we’re now delivering over 13 million scores per day for addresses throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Source of the quote

Smart Planet (Nov 2013)

As a team, we continue to be committed to helping renters and home buyers find great places to live because we believe walkable neighborhoods with access to public transit, shorter commutes, and proximity to the people and places you love are the key to a happier, healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

More Data for More Markets

In 2013, we advanced the breadth, depth and accuracy of our data that is available for any address in the U.S., Canada and Australia as well as at the the neighborhood, zip code and city level. Key milestones include:

Some neighborhoods improved, some declined.

New Street Smart algorithm

  • 2014 ranking of Most Walkable Cities and Neighborhoods and updated Street Smart algorithm.
  • First Walk Score neighborhood and city rankings in Canada and Australia.
  • Transit Score and Bike Score are now available for any address in hundreds of the largest U.S. cities.
  • New Travel Time API including rush hour drive times and map visualizations for web and mobile apps.
  • New ChoiceMaps that make it easier to understand the difference, for example, between very walkable neighborhoods such as our own Capitol Hill where the average resident can walk to 21 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in 5 minutes and Mid-Town Manhattan where it’s 142!
  • New Neighborhood Crime Reports that provide a more accurate view of crime and safety by weighting crimes by severity and normalizing the data by how many people live and work in a neighborhood.

And I’d be remiss if I forgot to thank the thousands of people who help to keep our data up to date every day and who add photos and descriptions of the neighborhood places they love to help others make smart and informed decisions about where to live.

Independent Validation

Having walkability ratings available for any address across the U.S., Canada and Australia is not only great for real estate, it’s great for research and, in 2013, we’re proud to have once again had the opportunity to partner with leading academic researchers studying the financial and health outcomes associated with walkability. A couple recent examples:

LaSalle Investment Management (August 2013)

LaSalle Investment Management (Aug 2013)

  • Just last month, Fannie Mae published a study by University of Arizona Professor, Gary Pivo, showing that “where Walk Score is 80 or more the relative risk of default is 60% lower than where Walk Score is less than 80.”
  • The August edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine included two peer reviewed articles using Walk Score data. We love this video summarizing one of these studies and showcasing how Walk Score data helps make research more efficient.
  • See more research using Walk Score data.

Kudos!

Finally, it’s always nice to be recognized for your work and contributions. So, thank you to GeekWire for nominating Walk Score for App of the Year, to Inman News for once again recognizing our co-founder Matt Lerner as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Real Estate, and to Transportation Choices for naming Walk Score to their Hall of Fame.

Over the past half dozen years we’ve helped to lead the way in educating consumers and the real estate market about the benefits of walkable neighborhoods and, in 2013, we were excited to see demand for walkable places continue to grow and increasing investment from key stakeholders including real estate developers, city governments and the health care community.

Here’s to helping more people find great, walkable places to live in 2014!

Top 10 Most Walkable College Towns

top 10 walkable college towns

College towns burst with school spirit and are shaped by the character of the university or universities in the area. College towns are also distinguished by the surrounding city, the social and cultural gathering places, outdoor spaces and the mix of nearby businesses and amenities.

Our list of the Most Walkable College Towns includes cities with mid-size universities like Brown (the alma mater of two Walk Score co-founders) and large universities like Cal Berkeley with tens of thousands of students.

The Top 10 Most Walkable College Towns in the US:

1. Cambridge, MA Walk Score 87 (Harvard University and MIT)

2. Berkeley, CA Walk Score 79 (University of California at Berkeley)

3. Providence, RI Walk Score 76 (Brown University)

4. Evanston, IL Walk Score 74 (Northwestern University)

5. Hempstead, NY Walk Score 71 (Hofstra University)

6. Ithaca, NY Walk Score 65 (Cornell University)

7. New Haven, CT Walk Score 65 (Yale University)

8. Albany, NY Walk Score 63 (State University of New York at Albany)

9. Medford, MA Walk Score 63 (Tufts University)

10. Lowell, MA Walk Score 62 (University of Massachusetts)

To rank the Top 10 Most Walkable College Towns we analyzed the Walk Score of the cities where the top 200 largest universities are located and then sorted by population, removing larger cities (with over 200,000 residents) which represent a more diversified population and economic base.

Why is walkability important in a college town?

Simply put, cars are expensive; walking is not. The increasing costs of driving is leading young Americans to drive less, according to the Frontier Group. Between 2001 and 2009, the average yearly number of miles driven by 16 to 34-year-olds dropped a staggering 23 percent.

Younger Americans are also becoming less likely to take out loans to buy and maintain cars. New research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that student debt has grown dramatically over the last decade — some 43 percent of Americans under age 25 had student debt in 2012, with an average debt burden of over $20,000.

One way that students can save money is by not owning and maintaining a car. And, in fact, public transportation use is up 40 percent per capita in this age group since 2001 and bicycling is up 24 percent.

Accessible Living:

Walk Score is helping students find housing by aggregating apartments and homes for rent from around the Web to make it easy for students to find places to live by commute time, walkability, and access to public transit.

As a college student myself, my favorite aspect of living in the walkable neighborhood of Seattle’s University District, is that daily errands don’t require a car. Within walking distance is a concentrated core of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, parks, and entertainment that are essential to the community.

Finding an apartment is similar to choosing a college. You factor in the costs, size, people you will live with, the extensive application process, and most importantly, location. Location is key to the college experience and Walk Score can help you find the right fit!

2014 Ranking of Most Walkable Cities & Neighborhoods

most walkable us cities and neighborhoods

Just in time for New Year’s resolutions to live healthier and save money, we’re announcing our 2014 ranking of Most Walkable U.S. Cities and Neighborhoods. Read the official press release.

We hope this new ranking helps people find great places to live that offer a breadth of nearby amenities including food, entertainment, shopping, schools, parks, bike lanes and public transit. Being able to walk out your door and leave your car at home more often is great for your wallet, health and quality of life.

Walk Score Ranking of Largest U.S. Cities

Walk Score badge
# 1

New York

Walk Score: 87.6
New York

Walk Score badge
# 2

San Francisco

Walk Score: 83.9
San Francisco

Walk Score badge
# 3

Boston

Walk Score: 79.5
Boston

Walk Score badge
# 4

Philadelphia

Walk Score: 76.5
Philadelphia

Walk Score badge
# 5

Miami

Walk Score: 75.6
Miami

Walk Score badge
# 6

Chicago

Walk Score: 74.8
New York

Walk Score badge
# 7

Washington D.C.

Walk Score: 74.1
San Francisco

Walk Score badge
# 8

Seattle

Walk Score: 70.8
Seattle

Walk Score badge
# 9

Oakland

Walk Score: 68.5
Oakland

Walk Score badge
#10

Baltimore

Walk Score: 66.2
Baltimore

 

Based on our Street Smart Walk Score algorithm and analysis of over 10 million addresses and 2 billion walking routes for 2,500 U.S. cities and more than 10,000 neighborhoods, the 2014 ranking is our most sophisticated to date. Read our 2014 rankings methodology.

Live Healthier, Happier & Save Money in 2014

“The typical American family spends 1/5th of their income on transportation and countless hours are wasted commuting long distances,” said Jeff Speck author, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. “Walk Score is leading the way in helping people make smart and informed decisions about where to live. Nothing makes as big of an impact on your health and quality of life as finding a better commute and living in a walkable neighborhood.”

  • Be Healthier: The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs eight pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.
  • Be Happier: People who live in walkable communities are more socially engaged and trusting than those who live in less walkable areas.
  • Save Money: The average American spends over $9,000 per year on their car making cars the second largest expense for most households, costing more than food, clothing and health care.

Find Your Neighborhood Today

To help you get started, we created this list of select Walker’s Paradise neighborhoods where you can live healthier, happier and car-free in 2014. In addition to having a Walk Score of over 90 all of these neighborhoods also offer access to excellent public transit with a Transit Score of 70+.

Learn more about our apartment and rental search and download our updated Apartments and Rentals iPhone App to search for places to live by commute time, access to public transit, Walk Score and your “Gotta Have” amenities.

 

2014 City and Neighborhood Ranking Methodology

Our 2014 ranking is the first time we’ve calculated city and neighborhood scores using our Street Smart Walk Score algorithm.  To calculate the rankings, we scored over 10 million locations and computed over 2 billion walking routes for 2,500 U.S. cities and more than 10,000 neighborhoods.

We’ve made a number of significant improvements to the Walk Score algorithm:

  • Walking routes: Billions of walking routes are quickly calculated using our Travel Time API.
  • Depth of choice: To capture what makes a place truly walkable, we’re analyzing hundreds of nearby amenities for each location to measure depth of choice (see ChoiceMaps for more info).
  • Pedestrian friendliness: We’ve improved our analysis of pedestrian friendliness with better road metrics such as intersection density and average block length.
  • Mixed use: We’re using population data to determine whether a neighborhood is mixed use (residential and commercial) or single use.
  • Improved local data: We’ve continued to improve our local data sources, including over 35,000 additions and removals of places from Walk Score users.
Walk Score Point Grid

Walk Score Point Grid

Ranking Methodology

To rank cities and neighborhoods, we calculate the Walk Score of approximately every city block (technically a grid of latitude and longitude points spaced roughly 500 feet apart).

Each point is weighted by population density so that the rankings reflect where people live and so that neighborhoods and cities do not have lower scores because of parks, bodies of water, etc.

Roosevelt Island: Before and After

Since this is the first city and neighborhood ranking we’ve done with our Street Smart algorithm, here’s a fun island example.  You can see the score decreasing for Roosevelt Island since water barriers prevent residents from accessing nearby Manhattan.

The Walk Score for Roosevelt Island decreases due to water barriers.

The Walk Score for Roosevelt Island decreases due to water barriers.

How Scores Are Changing

Almost all of our city and neighborhood scores have changed — some improved and some declined. The trend line in the graph below shows that neighborhoods with low scores decreased the most. This is likely due to longer routed distances, poor road metrics like intersection density and block length, and a lack of mixed use development.

Neighborhoods with high scores tended to improve a little because our Street Smart algorithm records high depth of choice in categories like restaurants and shopping.

Some neighborhoods improved, some declined.

Some neighborhoods improved, some declined.

A More Complete Picture of Location

With these updates to the Walk Score algorithm, our expansion to over 300 cities with Transit Score and 100+ cities with Bike Score, we’re able to provide a more complete picture of what’s outside the four walls of a home or apartment.

Thanks for your support!

Walkability and Low Income Housing Tax Credits

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is using Walk Score to encourage real estate developers to create affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods.

Specifically, developments with a high Walk Score are awarded points that help projects qualify for low income housing tax credits.

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 4.52.39 PM

Walk Score in low income housing tax credit application.

How Do Low Income Housing Tax Credits Work?

The IRS runs a low income housing tax credit program called LIHTC (pronounced lie-tech) that provides a certain number of housing tax credits each year to states based on population. Real estate developers who meet the state criteria (known as a qualified allocation plan), compete for the tax credits.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Developers who are awarded the credits sell them at discounted rates to investors (e.g. a bank). The investors can apply these tax credits to any part of their federal tax bill.

Selling the tax credits allows the developer to reduce the debt required to finance their project. Since the property needs less income to operate, the developer can provide affordable rent for tenants. LIHTC is heralded as one of the most effective housing programs created by the federal government.

Why Use Walk Score for Low Income Housing Tax Credits? 

Walkability is a key element in the tax credit application and MSHDA decided to use Walk Score because the agency liked the methodology, it’s easy to use, and it shows how walkable each site is. Up to 10 points may be awarded for walkability, which is a significant component of the overall score.

The Value of Place Making and Walkability

“It is no secret that Michigan is known as the comeback state and one of the reasons, an important one at that, is its focus on placemaking,” said Andy Martin, Manager of the LIHTC program at MSHDA. “We believe that by revitalizing communities and rebuilding neighborhoods, we can strengthen the entire state.”

“We have learned that young knowledge workers have a strong preference for urban walkability and neighborhood amenities are just as important to them as housing amenities,” said Jim Tischler, director of Community Development at MSHDA. “We believe placemaking and walkability are key factors in Michigan’s transformation. They want to be in places with both jobs and things to do, and we want to oblige them by giving them the walkable neighborhoods they so desperately want.”

Quantifying The Value of Walkability and Public Transit

Here at Walk Score we see the headlines that the housing market is recovering, interest rates are low and construction is on the rise, but still there is uncertainty in the macro dynamics of the real-estate market post 2007 real estate bubble.

In recent months leading academics, consulting firms and real estate associations have touted the financial benefits of buying and living in walkable cities. While the Walk Score team prepares for Inman’s Real Estate Connect conference this week, we wanted to share some recent research quantifying the financial value of walkability, access to public transit and shorter commutes.

The American Public Transportation Association, in partnership with the National Association of Realtors, recently published a study titled The New Real Estate Mantra that identified “a premium associated with walkability in the form of an increase in office, residential and retail rents, retail revenues, and for-sale residential values. The recession increased the premium for retail and office space in walkable urban neighborhoods; pre-recession (defined as 2000-07) there was 
a 23 percent premium per square foot valuation, during the recession (2008-10) it jumped to 44 percent.”

Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region. Close to public transit v. Not close to public transit (2006-11).

Percent change in average residential sales prices close to public transit vs. not close to public transit (2006-11). Source: American Public Transportation Association.

Using Walk Score data, the consulting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper and the Urban Land Institute published Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2013. This study shows that, while there are higher values in tier one walkable cities like San Francisco and New York, top “secondary locations… offering walkability and strong transit systems continue to outshine other cites” in terms of investment value when compared to areas with lower Walk Score ratings.

PWC and the Urban Land Institute summarize it simply: “Whatever way you look at it, tenants want to walk or be near public transit. Markets that offer both options will succeed.”

Along similar lines, in a study conducted on behalf of Fannie Mae, Dr. Gary Pivo of the University of Arizona shows that “for every 5% increase in the percent of workers in a tract who walk to work, the risk of [loan] default decreases by 15%.” Pivo goes on in his most recent report analyzing variables impacting loan defaults to show that “for every 10‐minute increase in the mean commute time for residents in a census tract, the risk of default increases by 45%.”

Read more about the financial value of neighborhood walkability and see how others are using Walk Score data for economic analysis.