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Five Years of Evidence Matters

Collage of images including children in play areas adjacent to apartment buildings and townhouses, a suburban street of single family homes, and an aerial view of a city underneath the Evidence Matters logo.

In the winter of 2011, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research launched Evidence Matters, a publication dedicated to informing policymakers, researchers, and practitioners about the ways in which research informs housing and community development policy. In the premier issue, which featured articles about neighborhood revitalization, then-HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan wrote, “We live in an age in which technology has made information more accessible than at any time in our history. Our charge is to turn that information into knowledge, and that knowledge into change.”

Over 5 years and 16 published issues, Evidence Matters has translated the critical analysis done by researchers — including work funded or performed by HUD — for a wide audience in a tone that is accessible but doesn’t oversimplify. The publication has been produced by a combination of federal employees and external authors, with oversight by senior staff from the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) and an advisory committee of leaders from throughout the agency. This team has carefully selected topics that balance the multiple components of HUD’s mission, often alternating in focus between housing and community development. Each issue reaches around 25,000 print subscribers as well as thousands more who view the publication at HUDUser.gov.

A typical issue of Evidence Matters features a lead article that provides an overview of the topic, a “Research Spotlight” article that delves more deeply into the evidence base underpinning a policy or problem, and an “In Practice” article that profiles local organizations that are improving outcomes in their communities. For example, the In Practice article in an issue about vacant and abandoned properties discussed the ways in which several countywide land banks and planners as well as artists practicing temporary urbanism helped combat blight.

As the staff of Evidence Matters reflect on the publication’s history and consider its future, a number of major themes have emerged.

Evidence Matters began at a point when PD&R, and HUD as a whole, was increasingly looking at topics in a more connected way. Much like the “housing-plus” and “housing as a platform” language used throughout the housing and community development sectors today, many Evidence Matters issues center on the intersection of two linked ideas; examples of this have included housing and youth outcomes, housing and health, and a forthcoming issue on housing and justice policy. The editors and advisors of Evidence Matters believe strongly that helping readers see how the many factors that contribute to successful communities intersect — both in policy and in our neighborhoods — is a key mission.

Resilience is another common thread running through the issues of Evidence Matters. The ability of individuals and communities to successfully rebound from disruptions, whether economic downturns or natural disasters, is most obviously the focus of our issues on capacity building, sustainability, and disaster policy. But it’s also present in issues discussing strategies for remediating and repurposing vacant properties, creating communities of opportunity through inclusionary zoning, and so many other topics. As the research basis for resilience has continued to evolve, Evidence Matters has been a source of current best practices for practitioners around the country.

Just as important as issues that cut across community development topics, many issues of Evidence Matters have focused squarely on a specific population or group, with a series of articles considering different policy issues or questions relevant to that group. For example, our issue about individuals experiencing homelessness had one article discussing veterans and the use of data to combat veteran homelessness and another on the role of the healthcare system in helping those experiencing chronic homelessness. Other editions have centered on aging in place, Native American populations, and children.

Finally, Evidence Matters was created in a post-Great Recession environment in which policymakers were thinking hard about the proper balance of affordable rental housing and opportunities for responsible homeownership. From the beginning, many of our issues have considered this challenge, including editions focusing on rental housing policy, low-income homeownership, and preserving rental affordability as well as the forthcoming spring issue on housing finance. Also, because a just and successful housing market requires equal opportunity, we have produced an issue on fair housing and housing discrimination.

Although Evidence Matters has now covered many of the major topics in housing and community development, the continuous development of important new research —and the ongoing evolution of challenges around the country that HUD must confront — ensures that the publication will continue to inform its audience for years to come.