True Affordability: Critiquing the International Housing Affordability Survey

Most lower- and moderate-income households spend more on housing and transportation than considered affordable. When families cannot afford food or healthcare, the real reason is generally excessive housing and transport cost burdens. This harms families and communities. As a result, there is considerable interest in tools to help understand unaffordability problems and evaluate potential solutions. The Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (IHAS) rates regional housing affordability using Median Multiples (the ratio of median house prices to median wages), and uses the results to advocate for urban expansion. It is heavily promoted and receives significant media attention. This study critically evaluates the IHAS methods and recommendations. It identifies significant problems. The Survey only considers a limited set of housing types, geographic areas and impacts, which exaggerates the affordability of detached, urban-fringe housing and the unaffordability of compact urban infill. It blames housing unaffordability on urban containment regulations although they are actually uncommon and less costly than regulations limiting affordable infill. It ignores many sprawl costs and Smart Growth benefits. The IHAS fails to reflect professional standards: its analysis methods do not reflect current best practices, is not transparent, misrepresents key research, fails to respond to legitimate criticism, and lacks peer review. This critique indicates that the IHAS is propaganda, intended to support a political agenda rather than provide objective guidance. Although the IHAS information may be useful, it is important that users understand its biases.

  • Record URL:
  • Supplemental Notes:
    • © 2018 Todd Alexander Litman.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Victoria Transport Policy Institute

    Victoria, British Columbia  Canada 
  • Authors:
    • Litman, Todd
  • Publication Date: 2018-4-24


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Figures; Maps; Photos; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 47p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01668717
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Mar 7 2018 10:35AM