Redesigning the American Housing Survey
Kurt Usowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs The American Housing Survey (AHS), the nation's largest housing survey, provides a periodic measure of the size and composition of the country’s housing inventory. The survey is a joint effort from HUD, which provides funding and oversight for the AHS, and the U.S. Census Bureau, which provides operational management and field data collection.
The current sample of housing units1 was drawn in 1985, with additions and subtractions to account for new construction, demolitions, and conversions. The 2013 AHS will be the final survey administered to the current sample. HUD will draw a new sample for 2015, which will present an opportunity to redesign the survey to better meet current and future needs.
Every 2 years, AHS collects data on the amount and types of changes in the nation’s housing stock as well as its physical condition; the characteristics of the occupants; mortgage, rent, and utility costs; those who are eligible for and who receive assisted housing benefits; the number and characteristics of vacant units, housing and neighborhood choice information for recent movers; and repair and remodeling costs. In 2009, to minimize respondent burden and satisfy the growing need for data content, AHS questions were split into into “core” modules and “rotating topical” modules. Questions in the core modules are asked in every survey and typically receive only minor revisions between surveys, whereas questions in the rotating topical modules appear on a rotating basis. For example, questions about potential health and safety hazards and home modifications for occupants living with disabilities that were added to the 2011 survey will not be included in the 2013 survey. The 2013 survey includes questions about neighborhood characteristics; people who had to temporarily move in with other households; ability to travel via public transportation, bicycling, or walking; energy efficiency; and emergency preparedness that were not in the 2011 AHS.
The current AHS national sample includes approximately 60,000 housing units that are visited every 2 years to generate national estimates. In addition, housing units in selected metropolitan areas are visited periodically to generate metropolitan area estimates, which are referred to as metropolitan area oversamples. The 2011 AHS included 29 metropolitan area oversamples; the 2013 survey included 25 additional metropolitan oversamples.
HUD uses AHS data to monitor the interaction among housing needs, demand, and supply as well as changes in housing conditions and costs; to develop housing policies; and to design of housing programs appropriate for different target groups, such as first-time homebuyers, the elderly, and low-income renters. Policy analysts, program managers, budget analysts, and congressional staff use AHS data to advise members of the executive and legislative branches about housing conditions and the suitability of public policy initiatives. Academic researchers and private organizations also use AHS data in efforts of specific interest and concern to their respective communities.
In 2011, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) embarked on a multipart strategy to redesign AHS for 2015. PD&R’s first step was to have major users of the AHS evaluate different sample design options. In January 2013, PD&R solicited additional feedback on redesign issues through a Federal Register Notice. Other parts of PD&R’s redesign strategy include the May 2013 AHS Redesign Planning Conference held in Washington, DC, one-on-one meetings with interested AHS users, and ongoing internal and external research supporting the redesign.
To effectively manage the redesign, HUD is focusing on three key areas. The first area, sample size and scope, includes determining a national sample size and identifying which metropolitan areas should be oversampled and how often. The second key area, content and question design, involves evaluating all questions currently in the core modules to determine whether they are still relevant to today's housing data needs. Part of the content evaluation includes determining what future housing data needs AHS can meet.
The third area of focus for HUD is improving the AHS user experience. AHS is often considered more complex than other large surveys, and this complexity can make AHS difficult to use, reducing its effectiveness. To improve the user experience, HUD is evaluating the best practices of other large surveys and soliciting feedback from the community of AHS users.
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