Would $12,000 Convince You To Move Closer To Work?

A program in Washington, D.C. is bribing people to move from the suburbs to downtown. Is it money wisely spent?


How much cash would it take to get you to move closer to your work? For the purposes of this exercise, imagine that your work is in one of the more, shall we say, unsavory parts of Washington, D.C. and you live in a nice, quaint suburb in Virginia. Would you accept $12,000? Washington, D.C.’s Office Of Planning (OP) thinks you might–so the organization is launching a pilot program that will match employer contributions of up to $6,000 to convince people to move closer to their work or public transit.


The initiative, appropriately dubbed the Live Near Your Work program, has a total of $200,000 to hand out to people who are willing to move within two miles of their work, within a half mile of a Metro station, or within a quarter mile of a “high-quality” bus corridor. The OP’s reasoning seems simple enough–people who live closer to their work spend less money and time commuting, employers get the benefit of reduced parking costs and “better on time and work performance”, and the city gets revitalized neighborhoods and a wider tax base. And theoretically, the region sees less traffic congestion and air pollution.

But there are some problems. Sneaky people could easily take advantage of it by scooping up the cash when they were planning on moving anyway. And the $200,000 pilot anticipates helping up to just 60 employees; D.C. would have to spend tens of millions of dollars to truly shake up the demographic and commuting patterns of the city.

Baltimore has a similar program that is revitalizing depressed neighborhoods, so if D.C. can scrounge up some more for the program, it might be worth it–but the question remains: What’s the cash tipping point that would convince the average suburbanite to ditch their car and move to the city? Are there less costly and more efficient ways to encourage people to move closer to work or take public transportation? Perhaps spending more cash on beefing up Metro and bus lines would be a good place to start, or spending money on urban renewal so that downtown D.C. becomes a place people want to live without needing a bribe. Or, if the city wanted to get more draconian, it could simply make it so unpleasant to drive to the city–via taxes and tolls–that people move there anyway.

[Photo by fairfax county]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more