Accessing Info

This section explains how to access main sources of demographic, economic, and local market information that can help answer the questions posed in the What Questions to Ask section. 

Federal data sources

Decennial U.S. Census: The Decennial Census is conducted every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau. It represents a nearly 100 percent collection of data on a variety of topics about housing, people, and communities. Through 2000, the Decennial Census was the primary source of information for creating a detailed understanding of the housing stock and the residents of a particular area. These data often provided detail down the level of a neighborhood or group of city blocks. Though the responsibility for collecting much of that detailed data now resides with the American Community Survey (ACS), the Decennial Census remains a primary data source and provides a critical baseline for tracking community trends. The Decennial Census also tends to be regarded as more accurate, given the high level of data collection as compared to the ACS. Data from 2000 and 2010 census can be helpful in seeing long-term trends in your community.

American Community Survey (ACS): Much of the demographic data needed to understand community-housing needs now resides with the American Community Survey. Unlike the Decennial Census data, which represent a snapshot taken every 10 years, the ACS tables constitute a rolling five-year estimate, giving a sense of where conditions may have occurred for any given year within that period. The 2011-2015 ACS data is now available at the community level. 

Note: The ACS data come with a margin of error to represent the range of responses, given the limitations of the sampling size. It is especially important, when working with finely detailed information or in very small geographies, to recognize the limitations of the data. The ACS’s rolling five-year average will grow more meaningful over time as trends become more readily apparent, even when the margins of error remain relatively high.

To access both Decennial Census data and ACS data, use the United States Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder. From there you can use the Guided Search option to search by topic or by data set, and narrow it down to your community. Note that municipalities are referred to as “County Subdivisions” in the census data sets.

U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD): HUD Data Sets have a number of important data tables including Fair Market Rents and Household Income Limits. You can access these by following these links to a specific geographic area. By hovering over the name of each data set on the page, a window will appear that gives you an idea of how relevant each set is to understanding housing conditions. 

HUD’s Affirmative Furthering Fair Housing Data and Mapping Tool: The AFFH Data and Mapping Tool provides access to data and information jurisdictions are required to submit to HUD as part of the analysis on Fair Housing, including data on race and ethnicity, housing problems, demographics, labor market info, and transit. It was updated as of May 2016. Data is available by HOME consortium regions and for communities that receive CDBG funds.  A User Guide is available to help navigate the interactive map and find data.

Massachusetts Data Sources 

Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD): The EOLWD maintains a wide range of local county and state labor market information. This includes historic and current information on employment, unemployment, local jobs, and local wages. You can also access labor force and unemployment data and local employment and wages information by  clicking on the links under “Data and Statistics” on the right side of the page.

Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development’s (DHCD) Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI): DHCD maintains a Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI) of all affordable housing units in the Commonwealth. This includes a summary of total SHI units by community. For a more detailed listing of affordable housing units in your community, contact DHCD 

MassBenchmarks: The State Data Center as part of the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute Benchmarks program has community profiles, historical population data, and building permit data (as reported by the US Census) for each municipality in the Commonwealth.   

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH):   DMH Area Offices may be the best starting point for a better understanding of local housing needs for adults eligible for DMH’s range of supportive housing options. 

Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS): DDS Area Offices may be the best starting point for a better understanding of local housing needs for adults eligible for DDS’s range of supportive housing options.

List of Expiring Use Properties: The Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) is a quasi-public government agency that provides assistance to community-based and non-profit organizations across the state. CEDAC maintains a database of income-restricted properties around the state where the incomes are set to expire soon, thus removing the affordability from the property. Knowing if there are any affordable units set to expire is key to getting a clear idea of what the needs are in your community. The Expiring Use Properties database can be found in the housing preservation section of CEDAC's web site.

Local data sources  

Public Housing Authority (PHA): Your local public housing authority can provide information about existing rental housing and housing for the elderly. Go to Housing Authority Directory for a listing of PHA contacts by community or region.  

Regional Planning Agency (RPAs): If applicable, your regional planning agency may have data, maps, population forecasts, information on real estate transactions, and other items that could be useful. RPAs may also offer technical related to housing planning. Here is a listing of RPAs in Massachusetts.

Local Assessors: Local assessors can also be valuable resources in a range of areas, such as identifying sub-standard housing units, accessing recent home sales information, and understanding the market rent structure for multi-family properties. 

Housing Professionals (realtors, appraisers, landlords, developers): Other housing professionals in your community can provide on-the-ground insight in a range of areas, including market-rate rents and vacancy-rate trends, home sales, and on-market MLS data. It is difficult to understand housing needs in a community without engaging the assistance of this group. 

Local Council on Aging: Organizations and committees that cater to seniors may have data and helpful anecdotal information on the local senior population.