Celebrating PD&R at 50: Learning From Our Past To Build a Better Future
Solomon Greene, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.
This year, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. If you have been following PD&R’s work over the years, you know that, although our research agenda, structure, capacities, and approaches have evolved since 1973, two priorities have remained constant: our passion for learning and our steadfast commitment to supporting evidence-based and data-driven policymaking on housing and community development issues. We are remaining true to our history and mission by celebrating our 50th anniversary with data, evidence, and shared learning among current and former PD&R staff and you, our partners in the housing and community development field.
In this issue of PD&R Edge, we are launching PD&R at 50, a new column highlighting the reflections of current and former PD&R leadership and staff on PD&R’s signature research, data, program evaluations, demonstration projects, and innovations over the past 50 years. Throughout 2023, every issue of PD&R Edge will feature an article that focuses on a major body of research or priority policy area, describes PD&R’s role in supporting new evidence-based and actionable insights, and discusses how these insights have supported HUD’s mission “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”
PD&R’s Origins in Innovation, Evidence, and Impact
To kick off the PD&R at 50 series, this issue of PD&R Edge features an article by Todd Richardson, Jill Khadduri, and Sahian Valladares called “A Short History of PD&R,” which introduces some of PD&R’s major achievements and explores how the office has evolved over the past five decades. In this Leadership Message, however, I’d like to start at the beginning — with the statute that helped launch PD&R.
On December 31, 1970, Congress codified HUD’s various research authorities in Title V of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970, which, among other things, authorized and directed HUD “to undertake such programs of research, studies, testing, and demonstration relating to the mission and programs of the Department as [the HUD Secretary] deems to be necessary and appropriate.”
In the act, Congress instructed HUD to lead and support research and other activities that would enable the “employment of new and improved technologies” and “encourage large scale experimentation” to “stimulate expanded production of housing.” The act also authorized HUD to launch a new Experimental Housing Allowance Program (EHAP) to “demonstrate the feasibility of providing families of low income with housing allowances to assist them in obtaining rental housing of their choice in existing standard housing units,” which became the precursor to HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program.
Less than 3 years later, in 1973, HUD Secretary James Lynn consolidated two offices of HUD — the Office of Research and Technology and the staff of the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy Analysis and Program Evaluation — into HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research. PD&R was tasked with leading the department’s new broad research authorities under Title V, including leading HUD’s work to support new building technologies and other innovations and to evaluate the EHAP demonstration.
In its early years, PD&R rigorously evaluated EHAP, which represented not only an innovative approach to delivering federal rental assistance (for the first time, HUD provided housing allowances for residents to use in the private market), but also an evidence-based one (the demonstration program included three national multiyear experimental studies). EHAP represented “the first major attempt to subject a housing program concept to systematic testing,” as well as the first effort to collect comprehensive information about the housing conditions of low-income families in the United States.
EHAP’s early findings helped generate the data and evidence that later led to the creation of the Section 8 Certificate program, which Congress made permanent through the Housing and Community Development Act of 1987. The Section 8 Certificate program, in turn, evolved into today’s Housing Choice Voucher program, which is now the largest subsidized housing program in the nation, helping more than 2 million very low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. PD&R’s research was central to the development of these innovative housing programs.
Over the years, PD&R has also supported several rounds of research and demonstration programs to test innovative housing construction technologies and remove regulatory barriers to low-cost housing construction, including Operation Breakthrough (which began in 1969, before PD&R was founded) and the development of the HUD Code for manufactured housing in the 1970s, the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program in the 1980s, and the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) in the 1990s and early 2000s. PATH alone contributed to the development of several model codes; a body of research on production methods and building technologies that is still used today; and the creation of enduring partnerships to improve housing quality, energy efficiency, and affordability. According to a 2008 report from the National Research Council, PATH was “arguably the most significant housing technology innovation program in U.S. history.”
One of the major questions facing policymakers after Congress passed the 1968 Fair Housing Act was determining how to measure the nation’s progress at eliminating housing discrimination. In the 1970s, PD&R commissioned research that explored different methods to address this question, leading, in 1977, to the first Housing Discrimination Study that used paired testing, which is considered the gold standard for measuring discrimination. PD&R conducted subsequent national paired testing studies in 1989, 2000, and 2012 to show both progress and new challenges in the level and types of housing discrimination in the United States.
These stories, which we’ll explore further through the PD&R at 50 series, highlight a theme that runs throughout PD&R’s history: combining innovation and experimentation with rigorous evaluation and evidence can deliver real impacts for HUD, for the housing and community development fields, and, most important, for the people and communities nationwide facing the greatest barriers to stable and affordable housing, healthy neighborhoods, and economic opportunities. Innovation + Evidence = Impact. PD&R continues to apply this simple formula today, even as we expand our definitions of innovation and evidence to deepen our impact in an ever-changing world.
Where We Go From Here
PD&R looks forward to taking advantage of our 50th anniversary to reflect on and learn from past efforts and accomplishments. But the PD&R at 50 series won’t limit itself to celebrating our past — nor will the team at PD&R. Contributors to the PD&R at 50 series will highlight the relevance of past research to today’s most pressing housing and community development challenges. They will also illustrate how lessons from past efforts could help PD&R, HUD, and the nation build a more prosperous, sustainable, and equitable future through evidence-based housing and community development policies and programs.
To make the most of our anniversary, we need your help! Please share the articles in the PD&R at 50 series that you find most helpful or interesting with friends, colleagues, and neighbors. You can use the hashtag #PDR50 on social media to join this yearlong conversation. And if you want to share your ideas and suggestions for how we can continue to improve in the years and decades ahead, please send them to us at PDR50@huduser.gov.
Thank you for joining us in celebrating PD&R’s 50th Anniversary, and we look forward to learning together!
Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-609, 84 Stat. 1770, December 31, 1970, Title V § 501. ×
Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-609, 84 Stat. 1770, December 31, 1970, Title V § 502(a) and (b). ×
Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-609, 84 Stat. 1770, December 31, 1970, Title V § 504. ×
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2016. “PD&R: A Historical Investigation at (Almost) 50.” Accessed 1 February 2023. ×
National Research Council. 2008. Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. ×