Evidence for Housing Policy at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management
This Edge piece is a collaboration of Mark Shroder, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research, Evaluation, and Monitoring, and Barry Steffen, Former Acting Director for the Policy Development Division.
In recent years, the annual Fall Research Conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) has greatly strengthened its content on housing and community development policy, and the November 2019 conference in Denver was no exception. The conference theme was “Engaging Diverse Perspectives on Issues and Evidence,” and several leaders and staffers from the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) participated. For PD&R staff, this conference was an opportunity to both ensure that we are aware of the latest research frontiers and share what we have learned from them.
One HUD-focused session, “Assessing the Effects of Alternative Rent Policies for Housing Subsidy Recipients on Work and Other Outcomes,” dealt with two major HUD demonstration programs: the Rent Reform Demonstration and the Moving to Work Expansion Demonstration. The session engaged the expertise of HUD research staff, contract researchers, and academics in a stimulating discussion about how structures for determining rents and reporting household income influence tenant work participation, earned income, and rent subsidy requirements. Such questions have important policy implications related to length of tenure, the creation of economic opportunity, and constrained federal budgets.
Barry Steffen participated in a roundtable session called “Evidence in Action: Implementing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018” that focused on the Evidence Act. During the well-attended session, an official from the Office of Management and Budget highlighted Memorandum M-19-23, the agency’s guidance for Phase I implementation of the act. This memorandum addresses learning agendas, personnel (appointments of a chief data officer, evaluation officer, and statistical official), and evaluation planning and assessment. PD&R’s growing experience with engaging stakeholders in the participatory development of learning agendas (our Research Roadmaps) places HUD in a leading position among federal agencies in implementing this mandate and shows that learning agendas can generate real benefits for evidence building. Barry’s comments addressed how HUD is modifying the scope, content, and timing of its learning agendas in response to the Evidence Act. The act’s requirement for an agencywide assessment of capacity to generate and use evidence for policymaking poses a new challenge. Such capacity extends beyond the ability to conduct good research and evaluation to include more effective use of data, performance measurement, analysis, and research dissemination to inform better policy and practice.
The diverse perspectives of the conference theme were demonstrated in the broad range of papers presented on the topic of eviction: at least 10 papers across five sessions. Since Matt Desmond published Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City in 2016 and set up the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the availability of data on formal, court-ordered evictions — and analytic attention to the topic — has increased exponentially. For example, notable eviction papers reported that court-ordered evictions occur at about the same rate in public housing as in other housing (James Hendrickson, Princeton University); that early gentrification in the Seattle region is associated with eviction spikes and then displacement (Tim Thomas, University of California, Berkeley); that evictions increase the likelihood of subsequent moves, homelessness, and mental health admissions (Rob Collinson, Notre Dame University); and that 3.6 million eviction cases are filed annually, with the highest filing rate in the Southeast (Ashley Gromis, Princeton University). From the landlord’s perspective, a larger-scale qualitative research team found that smaller landlords who own lower-rent properties develop methods to avoid “professional tenants” who, in their view, game the eviction process by paying up at the last minute and abusing the property; they use informal screening methods, such as visiting applicants in their current homes, “inspecting” their children for cleanliness, and testing for tenant persistence by employing unnecessarily long forms (Eva Rosen, Georgetown University).
New tools for research and policy have been a persistent APPAM theme over the years. In addition to the standard megadose of sophisticated quantitative and qualitative methods, presenters this year employed such emerging methods as big data, machine learning, text mining, and fuzzy matching.
Mark Shroder served as discussant for a panel on specialized tools intended to assist policymakers: policy “mapping” — a visualization of interconnections and the lack thereof among agencies with joint responsibility over some public issue (Athena Tang, Booz Allen Hamilton); randomized demonstrations to test the efficacy of alternative messaging strategies from public agencies to residents (Shruthi Arvind and Nathaniel Olin, City of Philadelphia); survey experiments to test the acceptability of new infrastructure improvements when some residents worry about neighborhood change (Adam Eckerd and Riley Sandel, Purdue University); and a national database documenting the types and forms of inequality across neighborhoods within cities or other jurisdictions (Clemens Noelke, Brandeis University).
The 2019 APPAM Fall Research Conference proved to be a valuable opportunity for PD&R to learn about new research findings and methods and share what we have learned.