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HUD USER Data Sets

Image of a bar chart displaying the number of public housing units available in the United States and the percentage of units that were occupied between 2009 and 2013.
The Picture of Subsidized Households data set, made available to the public by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, breaks down information about the nearly 5 million U.S. households living in HUD-subsidized housing, including those who reside in public housing (shown above).

As federal, state, and local governments rely increasingly on data to fuel evidence-driven policymaking and make better-informed decisions about how they allocate resources, the importance of collecting, disseminating, and utilizing data is growing. For more than 17 years, has been providing free access to data sets from the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), and the demand for this content has never been stronger.

PD&R publishes 33 data sets containing information on a range of housing and demographic attributes; all of these can be found in PD&R’s Data Set Reference Guide. The guide lists available data from PD&R rated by their relevance and usefulness for research in the designated categories. In addition, PD&R maintains the “Guide to HUD USER Data Sets,” which describes each data set and the formats in which these data are available.

The Fair Market Rents (FMRs) and Income Limits (ILs) are PD&R’s most frequently downloaded data sets. The ILs data set establishes the maximum household incomes qualifying at different income levels — Very Low-Income (50% of median), Extremely Low-Income (the higher of the Federal Poverty Guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and 30 percent of area median, capped by the Very Low-Income limits), and Low-Income (80% of median) — for various forms of assisted housing in communities throughout the United States. FMRs, which are often viewed in tandem with ILs, “are primarily used to determine payment standard amounts for the Housing Choice Voucher program, to determine initial renewal rents for some expiring project-based Section 8 contracts, to determine initial rents for housing assistance payment contracts in the Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy program, and to serve as a rent ceiling in the HOME rental assistance program.”1 FMRs are also useful in administering other programs that require location-specific economic data. HUD estimates FMRs for 530 metropolitan areas and 2,045 nonmetropolitan county areas annually.

The rental rate and income data from the FMRs and ILs data sets, taken together, help ensure fair and equitable rental rates in assisted housing. Owing to local and regional variability in housing costs and median incomes, both FMRs and ILs differ from place to place — sometimes significantly. Building owners and managers, landlords, and tenants rely on this information to ensure that all parties to the rental agreement are working under a shared set of financial guidelines and assumptions.

In keeping with legislative requirements, the FMR data set is published annually at the beginning of October. PD&R has also produced an FMR/IL Look-Up mobile app to allow stakeholders to access this information from anywhere.

A number of data sets available on are extremely useful to key decisionmakers responsible for allocating resources. One such set, the Consolidated Planning/CHAS data, is derived from custom tabulations of U.S. Census Bureau data. These data reflect the extent of housing problems and housing needs, particularly for low-income households, and are used by local governments to plan how to spend HUD funds. HUD also uses the data to ensure that grant funds are distributed equitably.

Another valuable data resource available on HUD USER is the Picture of Subsidized Households, which breaks down information about the nearly 5 million U.S. households living in HUD-subsidized housing. Users can perform data queries based on particular variables; for example, a visitor can request information on the number of households receiving assistance by state and by program. Users can also select from numerous other variables, such as the number of occupants per unit, monthly rent, percentage of units with a female head of household, percentage of households or persons with a disability, or resident age; in all, more than 50 variables are represented. Those interested in more fine-grained analysis can narrow their initial queries down to the city, county, or census-tract level (as well as by several other criteria); select the program or other variable of interest; and then specify whether to show a summary or detailed display of the resulting data. In addition, analysis files are available to download at all levels of available aggregation. This information is useful to anyone with an interest in subsidized housing, including demographers, social workers, building contractors, and state and local officials.

Although not a data set in the traditional sense, a host of closely related, data-driven housing and economic content can be found on PD&R’s U.S. Housing Market Conditions (USHMC) web portal. This portal includes PD&R’s national, regional, state, metropolitan, and local housing market data and analyses. Visitors can search for all of the reports available for a given geographical area and can narrow the results by type of report. Data are also presented in the form of charts and graphs, making the information readily comprehensible.

Each interactive graph presents information on a particular market characteristic over a given period of time. Users can select both the desired characteristic and the timeframe depicted. More granular information for shorter periods of time is available, as well as more detailed information on homeownership rates by race, age, household type, region, or metropolitan area. A similar interactive graph residing under the Demand Data tab depicts annual and quarterly data on new and existing home prices; users can view this information at the national or regional level. Similar graphing capabilities are offered under the Supply Data and the Financing & Investment tabs. These national housing market data and key indicators are also available through PD&R’s USHMC mobile application.

The data available from HUD and the other federal agencies can provide useful and, at times, crucial information for local, state, and national decisionmakers.

Brief descriptions of, and links to, the data sets described above (and many others) can be viewed in the PD&R Data Set Reference Guide. The Guide includes a measure of anticipated relevance for each data set across a range of subject areas. All data sets are available as free downloads in a variety of formats, including PDF, Excel, Word, dBase, ASCII, and SAS.

1Fair Market Rents for the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Program, Overview, 1

Published Date: December 15, 2014

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.