Executive Summary

In November 2006 Congress mandated that the National Research Council convene a committee to evaluate the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the research it conducts and funds. PD&R conducts independent research and program evaluation, funds data collection and research by outside organizations, and provides policy advice to the secretary and to other offices in HUD.

CONCLUSIONS

Most of PD&R’s work is of high quality, relevant, timely, and useful. PD&R’s outside research includes excellent examples in three essential categories: large-scale, high-impact studies; intermediate-scale policy and program studies; and small-scale exploratory studies. PD&R’s in-house research also generally meets high standards: addressing important policy questions, applying appropriate methods, and presenting results objectively. The majority of in-house studies are highly analytical and policy relevant and the authors are skilled in using program-specific administrative data bases as well as public-use surveys. PD&R produces several high-quality data sets for public use, and it has produced valuable policy assessments, forecasts, cautionary warnings, and recommendations to the secretary and Congress across the full range of HUD program responsibilities.

PD&R’s best work over the past four decades has made valuable contributions in several notable areas: the effectiveness of tenant-based housing assistance and the merits of alternative program designs in the housing



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Executive Summary In November 2006 Congress mandated that the National Research Council convene a committee to evaluate the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the research it conducts and funds. PD&R con- ducts independent research and program evaluation, funds data collection and research by outside organizations, and provides policy advice to the secretary and to other offices in HUD. CONCLUSIONS Most of PD&R’s work is of high quality, relevant, timely, and useful. PD&R’s outside research includes excellent examples in three essential categories: large-scale, high-impact studies; intermediate-scale policy and program studies; and small-scale exploratory studies. PD&R’s in-house research also generally meets high standards: addressing important policy questions, applying appropriate methods, and presenting results objectively. The majority of in-house studies are highly analytical and policy relevant and the authors are skilled in using program-specific administrative data bases as well as public-use surveys. PD&R produces several high-quality data sets for public use, and it has produced valuable policy assessments, forecasts, cautionary warnings, and recommendations to the secretary and Congress across the full range of HUD program responsibilities. PD&R’s best work over the past four decades has made valuable con- tributions in several notable areas: the effectiveness of tenant-based hous- ing assistance and the merits of alternative program designs in the housing 

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 REBUILDING THE RESEARCH CAPACITY AT HUD voucher program; the physical and financial condition of multifamily hous- ing insured by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), and the actuarial position of FHA’s home mortgage insurance program; the measurement of housing discrimination; technology research for innovations in housing; and the activities of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) to help guide the regulation of the secondary mortgage market. It has man- aged major housing data sets, particularly the American Housing Survey, and has helped to create administrative data sets that provide information on HUD housing subsidy recipients. It has brought its research results and staff expertise to the policy development process at HUD, contributing to major initiatives in virtually all programs and regulatory responsibilities, often in critical situations. Despite its important accomplishments, PD&R’s resources have signifi- cantly eroded over the past decade, and its capacity to perform effectively is deteriorating. Funding for data collection and research has been particularly curtailed over the last several years. Current budget levels make it infeasible to launch large-scale research initiatives or rigorous program evaluations and often severely limit the methodologies PD&R can use. Staffing levels have declined steadily for more than a decade, cutting into PD&R’s capacity and effectiveness. One-half of the current staff are at least 52 years old, and one-third are currently eligible to retire with full benefits. With limited financial and human resources, PD&R cannot achieve its potential, leaving policy makers and the public uninformed—or mis- informed—about such critical policy questions as the impact of time limits, work requirements, and alternative subsidy formulas on public housing residents; the effects of “empowerment zone” investments on inner-city communities; and the effectiveness of supportive housing in stabilizing the lives of vulnerable individuals and families. Of all HUD’s programs, only the housing voucher program has been recently, and repeatedly, evaluated across the full range of intended out- comes. No outside studies have rigorously evaluated the effects or cost- effectiveness of the billions of dollars spent on public housing, community development block grants, housing alternatives for homeless individuals and families, or fair housing enforcement. The recent budget reductions may affect the staff’s ability to conduct internal research projects. And PD&R has repeatedly cut back on the scale and frequency of the American Housing Survey and other major surveys, compromising their usefulness for understanding market conditions and trends. Finally, PD&R’s engagement with the broader housing and urban policy and research communities falls disappointingly short. The funded research agenda is developed with limited input from outside the department. Its website does not begin to take full advantage of Internet capabilities for dis-

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 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY semination of data and research. Potential audiences for PD&R’s research are unaware of what has been produced or frustrated by recent product reductions and delays. POTENTIAL FOR THE FUTURE: RECOMMENDATIONS Today, the nation faces an array of housing and urban policy chal- lenges. No federal department other than HUD focuses explicitly on the well-being of urban places or on the spatial relationships among people and economic activities in urban areas. If HUD, Congress, mayors, and other policy makers are to respond effectively to urban issues, they need a much more robust and effective PD&R. With adequate resources, PD&R could lead the nation’s ongoing pro- cess of learning, debate, and experimentation about critical housing and urban development challenges. In order to achieve PD&R’s potential, the committee makes seven major recommendations about its resources and responsibilities. 1. PD&R should regularly conduct rigorous evaluations of all HUD’s major programs. 2. PD&R should actively engage with policy makers, practitioners, urban leaders, and scholars to frame and implement a forward- looking research agenda that includes both housing and an expanded focus on sustainable urban development. 3. PD&R should treat the development of the in-house research agenda more systematically and on a par with the external research agenda. 4. Formalizing what has been an informal practice over most admin- istrations, the secretary should give PD&R’s independent, research- based expertise a formal role in HUD’s processes for preparing and reviewing budgets, legislative proposals, and regulations. 5. PD&R should strengthen its surveys and administrative data sets and make them all publicly available on a set schedule. 6. PD&R should develop a strategically focused, aggressive com- munication plan to more effectively disseminate its data, research, and policy development products to policy makers, advocates, practitioners, and other researchers. 7. In order to effectively implement the above six recommendations, the secretary should refocus PD&R’s responsibilities on its core mission of policy development, research, and data collection. Perhaps most critically, the committee concludes that the current level of funding for PD&R is inadequate. Although the committee was directed

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 REBUILDING THE RESEARCH CAPACITY AT HUD not to offer budget recommendations, it is evident to the committee that many of PD&R’s problems stem from the erosion of its budget, and that the office cannot accomplish the recommendations presented here without resources for additional well-trained research staff, data collection, and external research. In addition to these major recommendations, the committee provides more detailed recommendations to enable PD&R to achieve its potential.