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Cityscape: Volume 21 Number 1 | The Fair Housing Act at 50 | Data Shop: Law as Data: Using Policy Surveillance to Advance Housing Studies


The Fair Housing Act at 50

Volume 21 Number 1

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Data Shop: Law as Data: Using Policy Surveillance to Advance Housing Studies

Abraham Gutman
Temple University

Katie Moran-McCabe
Adrienne Ghorashi
Andrew Campbell
Lindsay Cloud
Temple University

Within the large body of literature evaluating the role of various demographic, geographic, and economic factors in housing-related outcomes, law is often neglected as an influential variable. The growing field of legal epidemiology is popularizing the use of law as data in quantitative analysis. As with any other dataset, it is imperative that legal data are accurate and meet high quality control standards. To that end, a method known as policy surveillance was developed to ensure the reliability and reproducibility of legal data and can be used to evaluate the impact of law. Policy surveillance is a type of scientific legal research that produces robust, scientific data for empirical research by mapping, or tracking, laws and policies and their characteristics across jurisdictions and over time.

This article introduces readers to policy surveillance as a method to create empirical legal datasets, using two examples. The first is a cross-sectional state-level dataset covering fair housing protections in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as of August 1, 2017. The second is a cross-sectional city-level dataset covering nuisance property ordinances in the 40 most populous cities in the U.S., as of August 1, 2017. These types of empirical legal datasets identify gaps and trends in policy and facilitate evaluation studies exploring the impact of law on housing outcomes.

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