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An Internet Guide to Housing Related Information,

by Shayna Strom General Information About Housing

While there is a huge range of information about housing available on the Internet, the obvious place to start for information about housing in the United States is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Their website has information for both citizens and industry members, on everything from how to buy a house to specifics of the federal housing programs. HUD also has a separate very useful website, HUD-USER, for people trying to download research (done by and for HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research [PD&R]) on various housing related issues.

A number of think tanks and research institutions produce reports on housing. The Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy does research on housing, sprawl, and housing-related demographic issues. The Urban Institute, a Washington, DC-based non-partisan think tank that focuses more specifically on urban issues and social policy, produces research on federal housing programs, housing markets, racial segregation, housing mobility, and international housing issues. The Urban Institute website also features a useful summary of its previous work on housing issues, with links to the relevant articles. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research institution that focuses on issues of concern to minorities (especially African-Americans), has useful resources on housing segregation trends. The Manhattan Institute produces reports on housing from a conservative perspective, as well as publishing City Journal, a conservative magazine on urban issues that often has reports on housing.

Several universities have centers that focus on housing-related issues. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies has perhaps the broadest range of reports on housing issues, on topics ranging from housing finance and housing markets to homeownership. The Joint Center for Poverty Research, a research center run out of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, also publishes academic reports on housing issues. The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has a range of housing-related research but is a particularly good place for research on housing in New York City.

Other good sources for general information about housing include KnowledgePlex, a website run by the Fannie Mae Foundation, and the website of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which provides easy access to useful housing data (see section on "Advocacy Organizations"). The Housing Assistance Council is a good place to learn about rural housing or find publications on the topic.

For information on housing in cities outside of the United States, it is worth taking a look at the website of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). The World Bank's Urban Development program also has useful research on housing and land issues in the developing world.



Housing Policies

There are four major types of housing policies for low-income individuals that you are likely to come across: policies in which the government manages housing directly (e.g., public housing), government regulation of housing (e.g., rent control and building codes), producer subsidies (e.g., Low Income Housing Tax Credits), and consumer subsidies (e.g., Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers). (For a list of commonly used housing policy terms and acronyms, see here )

Government Management of Housing: Public Housing
Public housing is the only kind of housing program for which the government actually manages the physical properties where people live. Public housing units in a given area are controlled by local public housing authorities (PHAs), which report to HUD but operate independently. Specific information about public housing can be found from the website of HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH).

A lot of work is currently being done to reform and redevelop public housing. For more information, check out HUD's web page on the subject and also the question about HOPE VI in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section on the PRRAC website (Housing Page).

You may be able to find more information about local public housing from your area's public housing authority (or from its website). You can find contact details for your local PHA here.

Government Regulation of Housing: Rent Control and Housing Quality.
Rent control quite possibly provokes more controversy than any of the other major housing programs combined. The policy aims to increase the supply of affordable housing by controlling rent prices--but some claim that it actually decreases the supply of affordable housing by interfering with housing markets. Rent control is managed at a city level, and is not a federal program.

For a history of rent control in New York City (which has had the longest experience with rent control of any U.S. city), you might look at the following brief article from Tenant.net.

For an academic article from the Journal of Economic Perspectives which argues that economists should revisit their dislike of rent control, you might look at this website, provided by IDEAS (an online bibliographic database of economics articles run by the University of Connecticut). A number of other articles on rent control can also be downloaded from the same website.

For a libertarian perspective on the subject, it is worth taking a look at the CATO Institute's report "How Rent Control Drives Out Affordable Housing."

Some experts also debate the economic effects of residential building codes and other attempts to control housing quality. Such codes are intended to promote health and safety but may affect the supply of affordable housing by driving up construction costs. A recent paper on the subject is available through Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. You may also find it interesting to look at the National Association of Home Builders's policy on codes and standards.

Producer Subsidies: Low Income Housing Tax Credits
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was begun in 1987 with the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and has quickly become the most extensive method for supporting the production of new and renovated apartments for low-income families. The LIHTC program allows investors to take advantage of a ten year stream of tax credits if, when building or renovating housing, they agree to set aside a certain percentage of units for low-income residents and limit the rents on those units. A good source of information about the LIHTC program is a website provided by housingonline.com, which is aimed primarily at developers and includes IRS information and a link to the HUD national database of tax credits.

It is important to note that the LIHTC program has recently been criticized for failing to follow civil rights requirements.

Consumer Subsidies: Section 8/Housing Choice vouchers
The Housing Choice voucher program (or, as it is sometimes known, the Section 8 voucher program) is the largest consumer subsidy low-income housing program. Section 8 vouchers allow low-income residents to rent from any private landlord who agrees to accept a Section 8 certificate; the low-income resident pays 30 percent of his or her income towards the rent, and the government makes up the difference. The Section 8 program assists more families than any other low-income housing program, and is the governmental housing program with the most potential to decrease housing segregation. HUD's website on Housing Choice vouchers has useful specific information about the program. Another good introduction to the Section 8 program is provided by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). CBPP is also a great source for analyses of current Congressional legislative debates that affect Housing Choice vouchers.

Housing Demographics

While housing can affect a number of different demographic characteristics including resident age and family makeup, its effect on neighborhood racial and ethnic composition is particularly important, given the deleterious effects of racial housing segregation (see the SSRN Electronic Library to download research papers on this subject by Douglas Massey, one of the primary academics asserting the dangers of racial segregation).

Information on neighborhood composition can be obtained from the U.S. Census Department. For Census statistics and analyses specifically related to segregation, the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research's Census 2000 Project is a better source than the Census Department and has pre-prepared graphs and charts on these topics. Their website can, among other things, provide you with a sortable list of population and segregation in the 331 metropolitan areas of the 2000 Census.

For analysis and academic reports, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy publishes articles and conference proceedings on racial housing segregation. As already mentioned, the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy is a good source for policy-relevant research reports about demographic changes in the urban landscape. PRRAC has also recently produced a series of historical studies of the federal government's role in housing segregation.

To see how the ethnic composition of neighborhoods coincides with the locations of assisted housing, it is worth looking at datasets on subsidized housing location.

Fair Housing and Housing Mobility

Under the amended 1968 Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity investigates individual complaints about violations of the Fair Housing Act. Its website gives information on how to file a housing discrimination complaint. The Department of Justice also has a fairly good "Frequently Asked Questions" section about fair housing and the Fair Housing Act.

Although housing discrimination litigation does indeed have some impact on reducing racial housing segregation, mobility programs aim to have an impact on racial and economic segregation on a broader scale by physically moving poor and/or minority residents into better neighborhoods. The "original" mobility program was the Gautreaux program in Chicago. A brief background of the Gautreaux program is provided here. The Gautreaux program was one of the first "experiments" in which social scientists could study the effects of neighborhoods on people's life outcomes--a very important question for policymakers or researchers worrying about the effects of racial housing segregation. For more information about research done on the Gautreaux program, see the Institute for Policy Research of Northwestern University, which was one of the pioneering centers that conducted research on the program. Some summaries of research based on the Gautreaux program are available here.

While the Gautreaux program has now stopped running, HUD currently runs similar "Moving to Opportunity" (MTO) programs in several cities around the U.S. (For a description of how and why HUD used the Gautreaux program to design MTO, see this HUD-USER publication). The MTO projects are ongoing and continue to be the source of both encouraging research and surprising results. Jeffrey Kling, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University who is very involved with research on MTO, keeps an updated website of research on the MTO project.

In December of 2004, PRRAC is sponsoring a National Conference on Housing Mobility. For more information, contact Rebekah Park at PRRAC.

Advocacy Organizations Working on Housing Issues

There are a number of advocacy organizations that do very important work on housing issues. One of the best known is the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which works to end the affordable housing crisis in America, focusing on five priority areas: preservation, production, public housing, vouchers, and housing plus services. The NLIHC's weekly Memo to Members is a useful survey of what is going on in the housing world. The organization also publishes very useful information on wages and rents in every county, Metropolitan Statistical Area, combined non-metropolitan area and state in the U.S., and publishes an "advocates guide" with specific information on housing and community development programs as well as information and tips about lobbying.

The National Housing Law Project is another well-respected advocacy organization. Its website has information on public housing; Section 8; homeownership; HUD rental housing; housing preservation; fair housing; and rural housing. The NHLP also runs the Housing Justice Network, a private members-only organization of housing advocates and clients (to learn about joining the Housing Justice Network, see here).

The National Housing Institute, while not strictly an advocacy organization, is devoted to understanding and finding solutions to the "crisis in housing and community in America." They publish the extremely useful magazine Shelterforce, with very readable articles accessible to the general public about a broad range of housing-related topics.

The National Fair Housing Advocate Online, a project of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council, is designed for both the advocacy community and the broader public, and includes an online discussion forum, news, and links to resources.

Several national civil rights groups have filed suits around issues of housing discrimination and segregation. See the websites of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Updated 2012 by Meghan Hottel.

Shayna Strom is a PRRAC Research Associate.
 
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