Housing affordability is about more than the monthly rent or mortgage. It's also a matter of location and transportation costs, usually a family's second-biggest budget item.

To help people make better-informed decisions about where to live and work, federal officials have unveiled the Location Affordability Portal (LAP), a cost-calculation tool that allows users to estimate housing and transportation costs for neighborhoods across the country.

The LAP aims to help consumers and communities better understand the combined costs of housing and transportation associated with living in a specific region, street, or neighborhood.

“Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment. Housing affordability encompasses much more than that,” said Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in a statement. “The combined cost of housing and transportation consumes close to half of a working family’s monthly budget, and the LAP will help to better inform consumers, help them save money, and provide them with a broader perspective of their housing and transportation options.”

“Transportation and housing are usually the two biggest expenses a family faces,” added Anthony Foxx, secretary of the Department of Transportation. “Now, hardworking families all across the country can make better informed decisions about where to live and work, including how their different transportation options may impact those choices.”

The LAP hosts two cutting-edge data tools: the Location Affordability Index (LAI) and My Transportation Cost Calculator. The map-based LAI is a database of predicted annual housing and transportation costs for a particular area. It includes diverse household profiles—which vary by income, size, and number of commuters—and shows the affordability landscape for each one across an entire region. It was designed to help renters and homeowners, as well as planners, policymakers, developers, and researchers, get a more complete understanding of the costs of living in a location given the differences between households, neighborhoods, and regions, all of which impact affordability, reported officials. The data covers 94 percent of the U.S. population.

The Cost Calculator, a companion to the LAI, allows users to customize data for their own household and potential residential locations. Users enter basic information about their income, housing, cars, and travel patterns. The customized estimates give a better understanding of transportation costs, how much they differ in other locations, and how much they are impacted by individual choices, allowing users to make more informed decisions about where to live and work.

The LAI was developed with the input of real-estate industry professionals, academics, and expert staff from HUD and DOT, and uses statistical models that were developed from various sources that capture key neighborhood characteristics: population density, transit and job access, average number of commuters and distance of commutes, average household income and size, median selected monthly owner costs, and median gross rent. The LAI also considers: car ownership, annual vehicle miles traveled, percent of commuters using transit, average selected monthly ownership costs, and average gross rent. This data is then used to calculate total housing and transportation costs, according to a news release.

Most of the model uses data that describe features of a neighborhood that are the same regardless of who lives there. To show how affordable neighborhoods across a region are for different types of households, the LAI presents data in terms of eight different household types--each characterized by  the number of family members, household income and number of commuters--that represent a broad range of U.S. families.

For more information about the Location Affordability Portal, visit www.hud.gov/locationaffordability.