Volume 7 Number 3
April/May 2010

In this Issue
Building Sound Housing Policy
Historical Building Blocks for Housing Demonstration Research
Past Research Demonstrations Pave Future Roads to Policy
Surveying HUD's Surveys
In the next issue of ResearchWorks

Building Sound Housing Policy

HUD Secretary Donovan introduces plans for building sound housing policy.HUD has entered a new era of innovation and impact at a time when the nation desperately needs housing and community outcomes to combat the foreclosure and housing affordability crises. Central to HUD's transformational strategy is high-quality research and evaluation that informs sound policymaking. HUD's recent failure to invest in research and evaluation contrasts sharply with its own history. Congress established HUD's independent research wing, the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), in 1973. During the 1970s, HUD funding for discretionary research reached more than $200 million annually (in current dollars). However, in its 2008 report, "Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD," the National Academy of Sciences chronicled a dramatic decline in PD&R's research funding between 1999 and 2007. Noting that HUD is the only federal agency that focuses explicitly on the well-being of urban places, the report concluded the following:

In 2007, the total amount of funds obligated for… external research was one-third of what it had been in 1999 ($14.8 million compared with $43.5 million). For a department that spends more than $36 billion of taxpayer money each year on a variety of housing and community development programs, there is virtually no money available to the one quasi-independent office in the agency charged with evaluating how these program funds are spent, assessing their impact, and researching ways to make programs more efficient and effective…. PD&R is in a unique position to provide professional leadership in the development of integrated research on the social, economic, and technical problems facing housing and cities…. If HUD, Congress, mayors, and other policy makers are to respond effectively to urban issues, they need a much more robust and effective Office of Policy Development and Research. With adequate resources, PD&R could lead the nation's ongoing process of learning, debate, and experimentation about critical housing and urban development challenges.

The amount of research funding in 2009 represented less than 0.1 percent of HUD's total budget, and most of these resources went to mandatory and fixed costs rather than toward the transformative research needed to guide the nation's housing and community development policies.

Transformative Research
In 2010, Congress increased appropriations to HUD programs and targeted $258.8 million for the Department's Transformation Initiative (TI), the cornerstone of HUD's plan to change the way it does business. Intended for next-generation information technology development, cross-program technical assistance, research, and demonstrations, TI gives HUD the flexibility to make strategic, crosscutting investments. Through this initiative, more than $42 million is committed to systemic research spearheaded by PD&R that will continuously subject programs to rigorous evaluation, promptly modify failing programs and policies, develop appropriate measures for tracking program performance between evaluations, and test transformative program ideas through carefully designed demonstrations. This initiative will carefully and scientifically build on lessons learned from past demonstration research, explore fundamental questions, and produce valuable information for policymakers on the actual effects of policy innovations — in other words, what works and what is in need of reform.

One strategy of TI is the design and execution of a series of major research demonstrations. These trials of new program concepts provide a controlled mechanism for improving programs and helping state and local governments find effective strategies for housing, community, and economic development. Since the 1990s, budget constraints have forced HUD to conduct relatively few research demonstrations. Those demonstrations, however — Jobs Plus, Moving to Opportunity, Effects of Housing Vouchers on Welfare Families — have led to important insights on the effects of interventions. In 2010, HUD plans to launch more demonstration research that includes the following:

  • The Family Self-Sufficiency Experiment, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Family Self-Sufficiency program that has operated since 1992 in public housing and with vouchers;
  • Rent Reform Options Demonstrations, to evaluate the effect of different rent models on earnings of residents, severe rent burdens, administrative efficiencies, and the financial status of the applicable public housing authority; and
  • Choice Neighborhoods Demonstration, through a crossagency partnership among HUD, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services, to test selected interventions designed to achieve enduring neighborhood change.
  • Among other initiatives, PD&R will team with HUD's Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to assess the feasibility of developing an affordability index that includes housing, utility, and transportation costs. This tool would help consumers decide where to purchase quality homes close to schools, jobs, public services, and valuable amenities.

    TI maximizes innovation and collaboration; Secretary Donovan points out that "only with competitive, gamechanging interventions that leverage public dollars can we help distressed communities transform into the export-oriented hotbeds of innovation we need for the 21st century." PD&R has invited fresh ideas from the public on the kinds of new research to launch in fiscal year 2011; we are also expanding our resource base with new partnerships. We hope to collaborate with and support a wider range of scholars and research institutions through a new set of funding opportunities, including the addition of research grants. As the Transformation Initiative unfolds, PD&R will closely monitor outcomes, measure and evaluate program performance, and keep policymakers informed about how effective these innovations prove to be.