Assessing Needs

Why is assessing housing needs important? Identifying gaps or needs is a first step in planning how, when, and where to address local housing issues. Most communities consider it favorable when residents are able to remain there throughout their lives. This typically involves living in different types of housing at different life stages; a useful starting point in defining housing need is to reflect on how achievable that is in your own community.

Who does it and when? Depending on capacity and resources, many communities may choose to engage a consultant to assess their housing needs and create a plan. Collecting and analyzing data on housing and creating a plan can also usually completed by the municipality’s planning or community development department. But it is important for those working to address housing demand to have at least a basic understanding of the situation in their communities to be able to have meaningful discussions with those creating policy, and to be able to set reasonable goals that address the key issues. Working through this section will give you a better understanding of the need for rental housing, affordable homeownership, senior housing, and special needs housing in your community. It will also help you identify the necessity of addressing challenges like unaffordability, foreclosure, and seasonal housing. 

What is the outcome? Understanding the needs in your community through research is only the first step. This information should then be used to create an action plan of how your community can work to address the gaps in housing.

Numerous communities in Massachusetts currently have one or more of the following: 

  • Housing Production Plan (HPP)
  • Housing Needs Assessment
  • Master Plan with a chapter or component on housing needs and goals. 

Your local planning and/or community development department may have already collected much of the information and data mentioned here, and may have a recent housing plan available. If your community has a current HPP, Housing Needs Assessment, or Master Plan, the planning, community development, or land use staff at your town hall will know. The department staff may also have a wide range of additional current and historical information that could be helpful for planning housing needs.

If you find that your community already has collected recent and relevant data on housing, you will find it more helpful to move on to the section at the end of this guide on how to use that data to create action items and goals. 

If your community has a current HPP, it will include stated goals and benchmarks, and a good step would be to head to the “Building Community Support” to learn about how to work to implement the plan and create coalition about housing. If the community has a current HPP approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), much of the information listed here should be readily available in that plan. 

DHCD's Housing Production Plan web page has regulations and guidelines, as well as information on which towns have housing plans. To find out whether your community has an approved housing production plan, go to DHCD's Housing Production Plan page. 

If your community does not have any sort of housing plan and does not currently have any data collected on housing, this guide provides direction and resources for collecting, organizing, and analyzing the information that will help determine the need for affordable housing. It is designed for use by people with varying backgrounds, including citizens who may have little or no prior experience in the housing field, as well as municipal staff and other housing and planning professionals. There are four parts to this guide:

  1. What Questions To Ask
  2. Accessing Information and Data
  3. Analyzing Information 
  4. Moving from Data to Action