Monday, January 11, 2016

The place for research in housing policy: The Center looks back and ahead

Solutions through research 
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference 

Through the years, research has helped frame housing issues and has provided evidence to support—or refute—the effectiveness of particular policies.  From the earliest photo essays of housing quality in the late 1800s to the establishment of HUD PD&R and the first American Housing Survey in the early 1970s to the sophisticated statistical analyses of the impacts of housing and neighborhood being conducted today, research helps illuminate once unseen problems and lifts up effective solutions for meeting housing needs. As we have seen, housing and community development policy decisions are not always guided by research. Sometimes there is an intentional looking away from evidence; often the impacts of a program or policy can only be measured long after implementation. Despite the limitations inherent in research, independent and rigorous analysis must continue to help inform policy debate and guide program design.

NHC’s Center for Housing Policy is an important part of ensuring research has a place in policy discussions. The Center staff are committed to increasing awareness of housing needs and identifying effective and promising policy solutions to housing challenges. Since its establishment in 1992, the Center has been at the forefront of new ideas in housing policy and research. We were part of early efforts to highlight the importance of combined housing and transportation costs to housing affordability. Our report on the housing needs of the U.S.’s aging population preceded more recent research on the Baby Boom population. We worked with the Furman Center and others on some of the first research on the impacts of inclusionary zoning programs on local housing markets.

Key to the work of the Center—and a characteristic that differentiates NHC’s research work from that of other housing research organizations—is providing a bridge between research and practice through accessible and relevant research and outreach to practitioners and policymakers. Our research syntheses on the intersections of housing and health, housing and education and housing and economic development summarize the most current knowledge from housing researchers in a way that developers, planners, advocates and policymakers can use in their work to expand access to affordable housing. And now, as a fully integrated program of NHC, the Center is even better positioned to connect research to federal policy and to effective communications techniques. 

As we look ahead, the Center remains committed to making sure high-quality, independent research helps guide the conversation around affordable housing needs and solutions. In 2016, we will continue our work on the important connections between stable and affordable housing and good health outcomes for individuals and families. We will do more research around inclusionary housing and local land use and zoning tools that can help expand affordable housing options. Our synthesis of the most recent research on the importance of place to economic mobility and well-being is planned for early in the year. And we are looking forward to expanding both Housing Landscape and Paycheck to Paycheck to provide a more comprehensive look at housing affordability and the household budgets of low- and moderate-income households. We look forward to being a resource for research and analysis to you and your organization in the year to come! 

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