NEW: MBTA zoning technical assistance & MHP's Complete Neighborhoods Initiative. MORE

What Questions to Ask

Each community and housing organization frames its understanding of housing need based on the community’s unique characteristics. To clarify its definition, the group typically poses questions such as:

  • Who can and cannot afford to live in this community?
  • In what direction is our community headed in providing quality housing to a broad spectrum of residents?
  • Can our children afford to remain in, or return to, the community as they start their own households?
  • Can those who provide essential services in the community afford to live here?
  • Are special-needs populations given adequate housing options?
  • Are there substandard, overcrowded, or other undesirable living conditions in the community?
  • Do our elderly residents have adequate alternatives for remaining in the community as they age?
  • Do we provide the type of housing that promotes local job growth?
  • Can you identify any housing trends in your community such as increase in absentee landlords, mortgage foreclosures, decreasing home values and/or increasing housing prices?

What follows is a series of specific data-seeking questions commonly asked by communities to determine housing need and to identify the gap between the actual cost of available housing and what residents can afford. You can complete each category in your assessment, or skip to the sections that are of use. You are encouraged to expand upon or modify the information as needed to tell your community's unique housing story.

The next section in this guide, "Accessing the Information," will show you where to find the data to answer these questions. 

Affordable rental housing need 

Population demographics

  • Is the population, especially the population between the ages of 18 and 35, expanding or contracting?
  • What is the local unemployment rate?
  • How many people in the community are below federal poverty level?


  • What kinds of jobs exist in the community?
  • Who are the major local employers?
  • Are local employers expanding or contracting?

Existing housing

  • What is the rental vacancy rate?
  • How much of the community’s rental housing stock is subsidized?
  • What percentage of housing in the community is rental housing?
  • In what types of buildings are rental units located?
  • How old is the community’s rental housing?
  • What is the condition of the community’s rental housing?
  • How long is the waiting list of local residents for existing subsidized housing?
  • Have there been any changes in the affordable rental stock in the past several years due to “expiring use” or other issues?

Financing and Income

  • What do workers in the community earn?
  • How much do renters earn as a percentage of Area Median Income (AMI)?
  • How much rent do renters pay, and how has this changed over time?
  • What percentage of their income do renters pay to live in the community?
  • Can renters afford local rents based on local and regional wages?
Affordable homeownership need  

Existing housing

  • What property type and price represents a “starter home” in your community?
  • What home sizes (by bedrooms) are available in the community?
  • In what types of buildings is ownership housing located?
  • How do home values compare to those in neighboring communities?

Financing and Income

  • How much income is required to purchase a typical starter home?
  • How many renters in your community can afford such a home?
  • What is the relationship between home prices and local wages?
Senior/Service enhanced housing need 

Existing housing

  • How much subsidized, independent senior housing exists in the community?
  • What is the quality, e.g., capital needs, unit accessibility, integration into the community, etc., of the existing subsidized housing for seniors?
  • How long is the waiting list for subsidized senior housing?
  • Does the community have assisted living facility beds that serve low- and moderate-income residents?
  • What housing with supportive services exists in the community for those with mental health or developmental disabilities?
  • Are there senior-oriented ownership options designed to meet the needs of residents with activities of daily living (ADLs)?

Financing and Income

  • What is the income distribution of the community’s senior households?
  • What percentage of their income do seniors pay for rent?

Population demographics

  • What is the age distribution of seniors in the community?
  • How many seniors live in market-rate rental housing?
  • How great is the housing need for those with physical disabilities? (Note: The Census no longer collects this data at the local level, but in many parts of the state there are organizations that provide services to people with disabilities that could potentially give some estimates of need. Check with your local Council on Aging.)
Other housing challenges 

Sub-standard housing

  • Is there a significant number of abandoned, blighted, or sub-standard properties? Where are they and who owns them?


  • What is the community’s level of foreclosure activity?

Seasonal housing

  • Does the community experience seasonal housing swings?