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Shaun Donovan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Message From the Secretary

Dear Friend,

I’m proud to introduce Evidence Matters, a new publication from HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research that highlights the research that informs our work.

Over the coming years, Evidence Matters will highlight policy-relevant research that connects policymakers at all levels, as well as researchers, advocates, and industry members, with clear, accessible, and timely information. Each quarterly issue will focus on a key theme. This issue’s theme, neighborhood revitalization, is an ideal topic for launching Evidence Matters because its goals intersect directly with HUD’s mission — to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities, and quality, affordable homes for all.

As a self-professed policy wonk, I’m excited that, under Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic, HUD has renewed its focus on research, data, and evidence-based policymaking. Our commitment, however, shouldn’t be of interest only to academics and policymakers. As we emerge from a housing crisis that has touched every neighborhood in America, communities nationwide are looking for solutions that can repair the damage. As HUD works to strengthen communities, improve residents’ quality of life, and increase the nation’s stock of safe and affordable housing, the ability to measure progress and track dynamic neighborhood change in real time is absolutely critical.

Of course, HUD is hardly new to the field of research. From the Housing Allowance experiments that informed our tenant-based rental programs in the 1970s to the national paired-testing studies that helped strengthen the Fair Housing Amendment Act in 1988 and reduce housing discrimination, evidence-based policymaking has historically underpinned major HUD initiatives.

In recent years HUD has partnered with outside researchers to support studies that illuminate the interactions between housing and other policy domains, from health to education to energy. HUD’s Moving to Opportunity demonstration has revealed important findings about the connections between neighborhood conditions and the physical and mental health of residents, expanding the body of researchers interested in housing issues in the process. And as Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has shown, the relationships that link housing, land use, and climate change are profound. For instance, not only does gasoline usage increase as metropolitan areas become decentralized, but per-unit energy usage is much higher in single-family detached dwellings.

Such research reminds us that evidence matters not only because it helps us track what works, what doesn’t, and what we need to improve, but also because it can help us craft new policies.

Homelessness is a good example. Tracking the homeless across a broad range of systems using their Social Security numbers and other key data, researcher Dennis Culhane was able to show that combining housing and supportive services not only led to better outcomes for the homeless but also saved taxpayer money by reducing the strain on shelters, jails, and emergency rooms. This evidence gave us the model we needed to “move the needle” on chronic homelessness over the past decade. Thanks to his research and the work of Martha Burt, Ellen Bassuk, and others, we know far more about the causes, demographics, and dynamics of homelessness than ever before — and recently unveiled our nation’s first-ever comprehensive federal plan to end homelessness.

Of course, the impact of research extends beyond the people and places HUD serves to HUD itself. Whereas bureaucracies such as HUD once adopted a “one size fits all” approach to governing, communities today use data to better target policies to local needs and enhance accountability for their results. By using research to reward results and nurture local innovation, as David Osborne and Ted Gaebler argued in Reinventing Government, we can fundamentally change the way government works.

We live in an age in which technology has made information more accessible than at any time in our history. Our charge is to turn that information into knowledge, and that knowledge into change. By demonstrating HUD’s commitment to evidence based policymaking and providing a space for diverse viewpoints at this challenging but exciting moment in housing and community development, I’m confident that Evidence Matters will help us do just that.

— Shaun Donovan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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