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History of the Economic and Market Analysis Division (EMAD): Part 2 — Rebuilding the Field Organization (1999–2023)

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History of the Economic and Market Analysis Division (EMAD): Part 2 — Rebuilding the Field Organization (1999–2023)

1999 to 2012 by Pamela Sharpe, Economic & Market Analysis Division Director; 2013 to Present by Erin Browne, Senior Economist

This article is Part 2 of the story of EMAD’s history. For Part 1, please see “History of the Economic and Market Analysis Division (EMAD): Part 1 (1934-1999)” from the April 2023 edition of PD&R Edge.

1999 to 2012

by Pamela Sharpe

When the field organization became a part of the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) in March 1999, the Economic and Market Analysis Division (EMAD) at HUD Headquarters had two primary functions: providing technical guidance and oversight to the field economists and calculating Fair Market Rents (FMRs) and other program parameters. David Shenk, then the director of EMAD, and Bruce Atkinson, the chief housing market analyst at the time, worked closely with the supervisory economists (now called EMAD regional directors), while Joe Riley, a senior economist, led the FMR team. Once the new structure was established, the first order of business for EMAD leadership in headquarters was to gather detailed data on staffing levels by region and assess the quality of the work being produced. Because of retirements, unfilled vacancies, and insufficient training and resources, the geographical coverage of field economists was erratic. In 2000, PD&R decided to hire a deputy director for EMAD whose sole responsibility would be to manage the field organization.

Pictured left to right: Fred Eggers, Bruce Atkinson, Don Darling, Harold Bunce, Pamela Sharpe, and Joe Riley.
PD&R 50th Anniversary Reunion, Washington, DC, September 2023. Pictured left to right: Fred Eggers, Bruce Atkinson, Don Darling, Harold Bunce, Pamela Sharpe, and Joe Riley.

In January 2001, I became the EMAD deputy director after 2 years as the supervisory economist for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia and, prior to that, 7 years as the Seattle supervisory economist. David Shenk retired as EMAD director in December 2000 and was replaced by Joe Riley. Because EMAD had two largely separate functions, Riley and I reported directly to Harold Bunce, then the deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Economic Affairs. At this point, EMAD had 39 field economists in 25 offices and 13 vacancies, with 14 more field economists likely to retire within 2 to 3 years.

One of my first tasks as EMAD deputy director was to assess the field organization by gathering details on its background and major responsibilities, staffing levels, and the coverage and quality of services by region. We compiled this information largely from a nationwide EMAD work tracking system that PD&R used for more than 25 years to monitor time spent on different work products and to support staffing levels. After I analyzed the state of the organization, I developed a rebuilding plan that outlined several scenarios based on alternative staffing levels and resources given ongoing HUD budget cuts. The resulting report became the guiding instrument for the field organization until 2009. The close advisors for this report included Riley, Atkinson, and two supervisory economists: Sarah Bland in Seattle and James Coil in Denver. One of the report’s major findings was that the entire staff needed training or retraining in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) housing market analysis techniques to improve analytical skills and revive the production of Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis (CHMA) reports as our primary work product. The first CHMA reports completed during this time can still be found on HUD User, one example of which is “Analysis of the Reading, Pennsylvania Housing Market,” by Patricia Moroz.

In September 2001, EMAD held its first counterpart/formal training meeting in nearly 30 years. The meeting, which originally had been scheduled to take place in Denver the week after the September 11 terrorist attacks, was nearly canceled, as the country was in mourning and air travel was severely disrupted. With HUD budget cuts looming, however, Harold Bunce conferred with Larry Thompson, PD&R's general deputy assistant secretary, about how the division could still hold the meeting. We started by surveying staff to see how many were willing to travel if the meeting was not mandatory and held in a location that was accessible by car or train. The staff response was overwhelmingly positive, so the meeting was divided into two meetings — one in Denver and one in Philadelphia — held during the last week of September. More than 80 percent of staff members attended because most were able to travel by car or train.

Between 2001 and 2006, EMAD established the following priorities to rebuild the field structure:

  • The role of the supervisory economists was expanded based on geographic coverage to balance the workload nationwide.

  • Field economist services and work products were standardized.

  • A 2-year, on-the-job formal training curriculum was created.

  • New economists were only hired in locations where they would be under direct supervision of an experienced field economist.

  • Two former FHA housing market analysts were hired as supervisors, Beverly Harvey in Philadelphia and Don Darling in Fort Worth. In addition, after James Coil retired in 2004, we hired him as a contractor to lead analytical training and assist headquarters with CHMA spreadsheet reviews.

  • A formal memorandum was sent to John Weicher, then the FHA commissioner, to streamline our work products so that we could consistently provide high-quality products nationwide.

The front page of the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Oregon-Washington CHMA, October 2006.
The front page of the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Oregon-Washington CHMA, October 2006.

With a limited but steady flow of resources from PD&R, the division was able to fund travel for CHMA field work, at least two weeklong analytical trainings for new hires each year, and biannual counterpart meetings that included analytical refresher training. We were also able to purchase third-party data to mitigate the effects of the continued loss of staff nationwide, which limited onsite data collection. During this time, we updated the CHMA reports to include figures and tables. One of the first reports to be published in this new format was the “Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis: Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Oregon-Washington,” by Tom Aston.

Between 2006 and 2008, Harold Bunce, Joe Riley, and Bruce Atkinson retired and were replaced by Kurt Usowski, Edward Szymanowski, and Kevin Kane, in their respective roles. Although EMAD made significant strides in staff skill levels and the quality of work products, the total number of field economists continued to decline steadily. Fortunately, during this period EMAD replaced the staff who had left with many energetic new hires, who produced numerous high-quality and well-received analyses, reports, and reviews. In 2008, EMAD also contracted with an IT specialist, Keith Andersen, to develop and maintain the field economists' growing array of technical tools.

Between 2009 and 2012, PD&R's assistant secretary, Raphael Bostic, took a special interest in the field organization and our rebuilding efforts. By 2010, only 29 field economists in 14 Regional and Field Offices remained. Bostic requested that EMAD create a 2-year action plan to demonstrate the need for additional staff and revisit our goals. The key players in developing this plan were Kurt Usowski, Don Darling, Sarah Bland, Patricia Moroz, Kevin Kane, and Erin Browne, who had recently transferred from the Atlanta Office to Headquarters. In 2010, 12 new field economists were hired, and Peter Kahn became EMAD's director. During his tenure at PD&R, Bostic attended two field counterpart meetings and visited every location where field economists were located. These visits restored the organization's stature within the Office of Field Policy and Management and among directors of other program offices.

EMAD also accomplished the following goals by the end of 2012:

  • EMAD's supervisory economists became more integrated with other PD&R directors by participating in the biweekly PD&R management meetings, where they offered input on programmatic and administrative issues.

  • To address the growing number of pending retirements, EMAD created team leader positions to prepare the division for the next generation of leaders.

  • EMAD leadership began holding regular in-person retreats to foster discussion and coordination among the supervisory economists and other organizational leaders.

  • Funding was increased for travel, training, and data subscriptions.

  • We contributed to the new PD&R Quarterly Updates. See the “Quarterly Housing Market and Research Update” in 2012, in which Kevin Kane updated participants on economic and housing market conditions and Sam Young served on a panel moderated by Kurt Usowski.

  • EMAD developed new training programs focusing on new technologies.

  • The Market-at-a-Glance Reports were created.

2013 to Present

by Erin Browne

After Bostic ended his term as assistant secretary in 2012, EMAD continued to build on the initiatives established during his tenure. That year, we created several task forces that employed our field economists' talents and expertise. Sam Young led the creation of the Oil and Gas Task Force, which studied the impacts of the boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry on local housing markets. The Spreadsheet Peer Review Task Force, led by Robert Stephens and Tim McDonald, and the Writing Peer Review Task Force, led by Tammy Fayed, improved EMAD's peer review processes, and the model they created is still in use 10 years later. The Product Development Task Force, led by T. Michael Miller and Elaine Ng, was critical in the development of the organization's many technical tools. Randall Goodnight and Casey Blount led the Data Task Forces, which gathered teams of people who knew our data sources inside and out. The division also created a field task force to manage third-party data contracts, which Gabe Labovitz and I still lead. The creation of these task forces was especially important after several longtime employees retired between 2013 and 2019, some of whom had been with the organization for decades and possessed considerable institutional knowledge.  

Group photo of the EMAD Counterpart Meeting.
EMAD Counterpart Meeting, Philadelphia, September 2014.

In 2013, EMAD formally hired Keith Andersen as a permanent employee to continue developing and maintaining the field economists' databases, technical tools, and workload tracking system. EMAD's workload tracking system, which the field economists use to record and track work items, moved to HUD's intranet in 2012 and expanded in the mid-2010s. During this decade, reports, email notifications, and a clearance process, among other improvements, were added to the tracking system to assist with the administrative tasks of managing EMAD. Enhancements to this sophisticated system continue to this day.

The cover page of the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Washington CHMA, July 2020.
The cover page of the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Washington CHMA, July 2020.

By 2017, it had been more than 10 years since the format for the CHMAs had been updated and it was time for a refresh. EMAD updated the report format to its current form, which includes new sections and headings to make locating information easier, additional graphics options, and increased use of maps. The first published report in the new format was “Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis: Madison, Wisconsin,” by Marissa Dolin. The new format’s increased use of maps spurred the creation of EMAD’s Comprehensive Mapping Team, which Dolin currently leads. Shortly after the launch of the new CHMA format, Elaine Ng led a team of field economists to design an affordability section in the reports to address the lack of affordable housing in select housing markets. This new section marked the first time that EMAD reports had addressed housing affordability in depth, and the addition was well received for highlighting this important issue. One example of a CHMA with an affordability section is “Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis: Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Washington,” by Holi Urbas.

Throughout the 2010s, we collaborated more frequently with other divisions and offices within PD&R and HUD. These collaborations include working on PD&R’s disaster response (an effort led by David Vertz), the Regional Housing Scorecard, and data requests from the secretary of HUD. Each of these projects stretched our staff of field economists, but they rose to the challenges. In 2016, Elaine Ng worked closely with PD&R’s assistant secretary Katherine O’Regan in preparing for PD&R’s contribution to the Research Symposium on Gentrification and Neighborhood Change hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. After the symposium, Ng authored a summary report on the event.

In 2019, EMAD underwent some important administrative changes. The two EMAD functions were officially split into two distinct divisions: EMAD and the Program Parameters and Research Division. This change eliminated the EMAD deputy director position, and Pamela Sharpe became EMAD director. Although EMAD had been functioning this way informally for many years, this structural change acknowledged each division's unique responsibilities and clearly separated the dual functions of the organization. During this period, Robert Stephens became EMAD's new head of analytical training and spreadsheet reviews. In the field, Wendy Ip was critical in advancing the organization's publications prowess by building a program to train new hires in the EMAD writing style and creating developmental modules.

In March 2020, EMAD confronted new challenges for analyzing housing markets as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life on a global scale. At the onset of the pandemic, the economy entered a brief recession, and long-held assumptions about the relationship between jobs and housing were tested as a substantial portion of the workforce began working from home. Furthermore, pandemic lockdowns disrupted the data collection methods that many of our sources used, leading some data to be delayed, inaccurate, or unreleased. The pandemic brought organizational travel to a halt, leaving EMAD unable to perform the usual fieldwork for the CHMA reports. Despite these challenges, we continued to make progress and published the first National CHMA report in 2020. During this period, we focused on producing Housing Market Profiles (HMPs) rather than CHMA reports because HMPs were shorter reports that allowed us to cover more areas. One of the more notable pandemic-era HMPs was the 2020 “Housing Market Profile: New York City, New York,” by Joe Shinn. The field economists showed admirable resilience during the early days of the pandemic despite facing their own personal challenges, persevering and producing high-quality work. Upon reflecting on the pandemic, Pamela Sharpe remarked how proud she was to lead EMAD during this difficult time.

Over the past 3 years, many longtime staff have retired, and institutional knowledge has been lost with their departure. Today, EMAD is a younger organization; a significant percentage of staff members have less than 2 years of experience. Although the division's loss of highly experienced staff members over the past 10 years has created some challenges, our newer employees have brought fresh technical skills and energy into the organization. In the past year, James Conner joined the EMAD headquarters team as a part of our succession plan. The future of EMAD holds great potential, and one thing is certain: EMAD will continue to evolve, just as it has since its beginnings.

The two functions were formally split in 2019 and the function that calculates FMRs and income limits is now called the Program Parameters and Research Division. For more information, please see “HUD's Fair Market Rents and Income Limits” from the April 2023 edition of PD&R Edge.   ×

Published Date: 9 January 2024

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.