Academic journal article Cityscape

Data Sources for U.S. Housing Research, Part 1: Public Sector Data Sources

Academic journal article Cityscape

Data Sources for U.S. Housing Research, Part 1: Public Sector Data Sources

Article excerpt


The basis for good housing policy is evidence-based research, and the only way to do good research on housing is to base that research on appropriate data. The principal research office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R)-emphasizes such an approach. Its mission is-

To inform policy development and implementation to improve life in American communities through conducting, supporting, and sharing research, surveys, demonstrations, program evaluations, and best practices. [To carry out this mission,] PD&R compiles, analyzes, and disseminates data to support program operations, enable performance management, and inform program policy. PD&R sponsors major surveys to provide crucial intelligence about the operation of housing markets. (HUD PD&R, 2013a: 1)

One recent example of evidence-based research, conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (JCHS, 2013), used more than 25 data sources for its report on rental housing. This article identifies those U.S. housing statistics data sources-and many more-and describes the suitability of those sources for research.1

The Decennial Census of Population and Housing

The decennial census of population and housing, as its name implies, is conducted every 10 years and attempts, through extensive operations and thorough attention to detail, to gather information from every housing unit and group quarters in the United States.2 Each census is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's Master Address File (MAF), a list of every residential address in the United States, including those sites for which building permits have been issued. The MAF is updated semiannually using the U.S. Postal Service Delivery Sequence File, a list of addresses to which mail is delivered. It is also updated before every census using two main additional techniques-nationwide address canvassing and the Local Update of Census Addresses Program. Although the multiplicity of operations ensures that the census reaches nearly every unit, some units are missed, and the Census Bureau conducts a Census Coverage Measurement program after each census to estimate the percentage of units that were missed. This operation estimated that the 2000 and the 2010 censuses both underestimated the number of housing units by 0.6 percent.3

The housing characteristics collected by the 2010 census were limited to only vacancy status and tenure. Vacancy was classified into seven categories and tenure into four.4 Units that are vacant do not have residents to return the census form, thus an enumerator visited those units to determine their status. Units that appeared vacant were verified by consultation with neighbors, landlords, or other knowledgeable individuals (such as mail carriers), but vacancy status could not be confirmed and was imputed for some units.5 According to the 2010 census, 131.7 million housing units were in the United States on April 1, 2010. Of those housing units, 116.7 million (88.6 percent) had people living in them. The remaining 15.0 million units (11.4 percent) were vacant.6

The Minnesota Population Center's website,, provides access to a set of data files-the Integrated Public Use Microdata Sample (IPUMS) files-that include "harmonized [micro]data on people in the U.S. census and American Community Survey, from 1850 to the present."7 Housing characteristics are included on the microdata files only from the 1960 through 2000 censuses, and geography on the IPUMS files (and on the PUMS files provided by the Census Bureau) is limited to geographic areas constructed to have a population of 100,000 or more; internal files have the full geography. The Census Bureau has tabulated key housing characteristics for every census from 1940 through 2000 (see the Data References Appendix).

Basing their analysis on the census results, the Population Division of the Census Bureau issues annual population and housing unit estimates for states and counties. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.