For decades, the rule of thumb was spend no more than 30 percent of income on housing -- now someone thinks that's wrong.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based think tank, is urging people to count transportation costs along with housing in finding a new home, whether it's a rental or a purchase.

Living far from work and shops can cost more than living in expensive downtowns (or Suffolk instead of Nassau in the case of Long Island), the center said. That's because transportation, from fuel to car insurance, is the second biggest expense for many households.

Instead of the “drive ’til you qualify” tactic of finding a home, officials at the think tank suggest "location efficiency” in finding a place near work, shops, family and whatever your lifestyle needs. They want consumers, federal officials and community planners to think about making places livable by looking at how transportation affects household expenses.

About 36 percent of house buyers surveyed last year said the commuting costs were "very important" in picking a home, while 42 percent said "somewhat important," according to the National Association of Realtors.

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The Center for Neighborhood Technology, which advocates green and healthy living, has proposed several ideas, and it's not as pie in the sky as some might think.

For example, the center suggested that lenders could give "location efficient mortgages," bigger loans based on proximity to mass transit and the borrower's transportation costs.
Scott Bernstein, the nonprofit's president, said that was done by Fannie Mae from 2000 to 2005, and he suspects that stopped when the lending industry in general began to show the first signs of trouble.

Another idea: Real estate listings might one day show a new category -- average transportation costs for the community.

"That way," Bernstein said, "you wouldn't get sticker shock."