Connecting the Dots Section 8 managers are finding that mapping technology gives them a leg up in their deconcentration efforts. BY DAVID HOICKA
he Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) was looking for ways to retool its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and show that it provided low-income families the chance to rent in different parts of the city, not just the poorer sections. As one of the highest urban poverty areas in the nation over the past decade-with poverty rates that varied between 26.8 percent and 37.9 percent-this was a challenge, to say the least. And, as an agency under HUD administrative receivership, the pressure was on. The agency dug deep, putting into place many initiatives, which included reaching out to landlords, stepping up public and community relations, hiring new Section 8 managerial staff, and more. The agency then made the results of their efforts evident-visually. A mapping program, implemented at a minimal cost, graphically showed the agency's successful deconcentration of its voucher families across the city. liThe mapping showed us we were on the right track," said HANO Section 8 Director Selarstean M. Mitchell.
David Hoicka is HANO's Section 8 manager.
Although mapping technology is still fairly cutting edge for most LHAs, many agencies like HANO are singing the praises of using such technology in their deconcentration efforts. Maps can show that voucher deconcentration efforts are working, help managers target certain areas for landlord outreach/participation, assist agencies in public relations efforts, and more. Data can be tracked according to Census tracts;' zip codes, ~-Wards,minority concentrations, and more. liThe most important thing mapping has helped us do is planwhich includes for deconcentration and landlord outreach," says Jennifer O'Neil, Deputy Director of Intake & Special Programs for CHAC, Inc., a subsidiary of Quadel Consulting, Inc. that partners with Chicago Housing Authority to manage its Section 8 voucher program. "In a city this large, without being able to visualize the areas, it is difficult to draw the line in terms of poverty rate, race, crime, school stats, etc. Mapping helps us do this." CHAC manages 32,000 Section 8 vouchers and is part of CHA's public housing demolition/ redevelopment efforts that have resulted in the relocation of public housing tenants around the city, using Section 8 vouchers.
Providing housing opportunity Deconcentrating assisted households has been part of the housing provider's mission right from the start with "the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. There has, however, been debate over the best use of extremely limited housing program resources, particularly whether funneling significant monies toward deconcentration efforts is an efficient use of these limited resources. Still, deconcentration remains a HUD and LHA priority. Housing agencies have worked not only to ensure vouchers are being used, but that families are being given the opportunity to really choose where they want to live. Two Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) indicators look at the extent of deconcentration and efforts made to expand housing opportunity. Deconcentration also has been a . hot-button topic during congressional appropriations. Congress has criticized the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program for not providing real choice to voucher holders, but instead concentrating them in higher-poverty areas. Appropriators have used this argument to make cuts to the program; two years ago Congress appropriated 79,000 vouchers, which then was whittled November/December 2002
down to 26,000 the following year, and was further cut this year with 15,000 proposed for fiscal year 2003. At the same time, though, deconcentration has proven a complex and precarious goal for housing agencies. Market conditions affect voucher success rates, which are part and parcel of successful deconcentration efforts. HUD's recent report entitled, "Study on Section 8 Voucher Success Rates in Metropolitan Areas-Vol. I," found that success rates were lower in tight housing markets than in looser markets. Previous studies have also suggested that the existence of Section 8 submarkets-made up of landlords who are familiar with the program and willing to lease to Section 8 holders-are largely in poverty-concentrated neighborhoods. Other obstacles to successful deconcentration include financial barriers such as credit checks, transportation costs, security deposits, the amount of search time provided, familiarity with neighborhoods, special needs or disabilities, participants' personal
Although still cutting edge, mapping technology helps LHAs visually track the success of its deconcentration efforts.
The key to mapping: Understand your own data. Where are your contracts? What
is the rental market
Many LHAs code by zip code or census tract, noting that census data is downloadable
for free off the U.S.
Bureau Web site. Others drill down to the street level.
In the future, mapping will be used in Web-based applications and
shared with planning departments or community development agencies.
problems, large-size families, employment, and discrimination. Despite these obstacles and the complexity of deconcentration, LHAs and Section 8 managers are finding innovative ways to more efficiently run their programs, with deconcentration as a major objective. Mapping is one such tool.
ing up your data, not the mapping," says Bina Panchal, CHAC's senior management analyst who puts together maps quarterly for the Section 8 program. "One thing we had to do is put into place a quality control process that continuously cleaned up our data." CHAC has such a person who, every two weeks to every month, Cleaning up data goes through the list of contracts. Once the data is "clean," current, The key to mapping is first, understanding your own data, say agenand in place, agencies can conduct cies that are implementing such analysis. Cuyahoga, although it is technology. Where are your conpartnering with Cleveland State to tracts? What is the rental market sitproduce the maps, still conducts uation in your jurisdiction? statistical analysis in-house. One of the necessary "links" that spurred "Digesting your own contract data and being able to look at it in such data tracking and analysis is the context of community demothe need for a rent determination graphics ...Do those two things and process that reflected all the various you've come a long way," says submarkets in an agency's jurisdicBruce Melville, supervisor oftion as well as at the census tract Standards and Performance for the ~ level, Melville says. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing ~"It is important that we know the Authority in Cleveland. , market well enough to be able to Cuyahoga, since 1995, has been . match, whenever possible, unassist"seriously specifying" census tracts ed rentals so that we can approve for each of its contracts. The contracts and stay within the rent agency does periodic downloads of burden limits in deconcentrated voucher unit addresses and census areas." Although they are taking their tracts, correlating that with the data to the next level by visually poverty rate of each census tract. The agency is now partnering with interpreting it, the data and analysis a local university, Cleveland State, the agency has already undertaken to generate maps based on its over the past seven years has address file. helped them see the big picture. "Our partners are the families The agency has a letter that specifies the terms of the data sharwe assist, the landlords that we ing with the university. This letter have contracts with and, of ensures the anonymity of the course, HUD," says Melville. "In a agency's tenants. larger sense, though, our commu"Wemake sure that the files the nity is our partner too. To be good university is geocoding don't have partners with other public officials client names-just addresses and in our community, we need to such. We assure that level of confifirst, have a handle on our own dentiality." data. We need to be able to talk about it in the context of the largIn Chicago, CHAC, Inc. has had in-house mapping capabilities for er market and community demothe past year. But, like Cuyahoga, graphics." the group's management points to Cleveland State has one map data concerns as the first step in already completed for the LHA, the mapping process. which the agency used in a recent landlord workshop to visualize where "The most difficult thing is clean-
Journal of Housing & Community Development
the agency's contracts were. The agency plans to make further use of their data and accompanying maps. "We expect to use [the maps] to help train ourselves and expand our capacity to do our own analysis," Melville says. Pu tting maps to 'work There are seemingly endless ways for LHAs to use maps. They can be used to monitor the percentage of Section 8 voucher holders' rent burden; show the proportion of owners to renters in the region and the distribution of affordable rental housing; illustrate the relationship between fair market rents and LHA payment standards to housing costs in the unsubsidized market; aids in landlord outreach efforts and mobility initiatives to encourage program participation in areas of less concentrations; demonstrate how income, racial, and ethnic distributions of the population are related to the distribution of subsidized housing; point out employment ~ opportunities and public transportation available to lower-income households in the region; and assist in public relations efforts for the program. Questions to consider are demographic trends in a locality, differences in trends according to sub-area, how vouchers utilization has been affected by these trends, and if community residents think that voucher participation is affecting these trends. Agencies need to figure out what they want these maps to do for them, says Panchal of CHAC. Although CHAC has had in-house mapping capabilities for only the past year-and-a-half, it has been outsourcing them since it started managing CHA's Section 8 program in 1995. When it first decided to bring mapping capabilities in-house, the Section 8 management company had to figure out what mapping program to use. Then it had to
Deconcentration also has been a hot-button topic during congressional appropriations. Congress has criticized the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program for not providing real choice to voucher holders, but instead concentrating them in higher-poverty areas. decide which way to most feasibly geocode [program] data-by zip code, census tract, or community area. "If a housing authority isn't concerned about details, the cheaper option is to go with the zip code or census tract [level],"Panchal says. "For us, that has been quite sufficient. We haven't had to go down to ~the address level." Census data is downloadable for free off the U.S. Census Bureau Web site. Going by zip codes to show what suburban neighborhoods Section 8 clients are residing in would probably suffice for small agencies, she adds. For the Housing Authority of Alameda County, though, more detail was necessary. "We are mapping down to the street level," says Ophelia Basgal, the housing agency's executive director. "The more units you have, the more likely that the census level becomes an undifferentiated blob of dots unless you print it on a huge scale." The agency has partnered with the Alameda County Planning Department to produce the maps. The department has the census data, streets, and equipment necessary to produce large-scale maps, which will include area schools,
transportation centers, and more. After making these key decisions, housing agencies can then take the data they've been storing and use it in a variety of ways. For HANO, one use was to show the relationship of poverty rate to Section 8 units by plotting the number of Section 8 units 'per census tract. "The result demonstrated that our deconcentration program was succeeding," says Mitchell. "There was no high concentration of Section 8 units in high-poverty areas. In fact, the map visually showed that the number of Section 8 units in high-poverty areas parallels the number of Section 8 units in lower-poverty areas." Cuyahoga plans to use maps to maintain that delicate concentration/ deconcentration balance. "lt is important to analyze the market to know what share of the total rental market, at the tract level, is under Section 8 contract," Melville says. "We need to know if we are creating new, unintended concentrations of assisted households." Reaching out
One way agencies are using maps is as a management tool to target certain areas for landlord outreach. The Chicago Housing Authority and CHAC have a mobility / deconcentration goal that focuses on not only economic desegregation, but racial desegregation as well. One map has been useful to its mobility counselors by showing areas where people can move that are below 24 ~percent poverty as well as below 30 percent African American (CHAC and CHA criteria). "We look at both factors so when counselors look at this map, they will be able to say, 'These areas are where I want to recruit units and target landlord outreach efforts," Panchal says. On the other end, maps can also be used to educate families November/December
that LHAs are serving. The really looking for more ways to use Housing Authority of Alameda the technology as a management County currently conducts tool to better serve low-income families. As noted, agencies are briefings for its Section 8 families that are "like a chamber of comalready using maps to show where they should target deconcentration merce thing." The agency plans to take this one step further with efforts, make their staff more maps. knowledgeable about local trends "Youcan put maps up at the and demographics, and more. The briefing so everyone can see where uses for maps go beyond these schools are, where the employment efforts, though. is," Basgal says. "This will be helpful CHAC now produces maps quarterly, providing them to CHA as in educating families as they are choosing where to live." well. The housing agency is thinkMaps also have had a hand in ing of using maps as a way to manhelping LHAs reach out to their age how counseling agencies assist communities, as a whole. LHAs public housing families relocating have used maps in public relations with Section 8 vouchers. efforts to show the actual voucher The agency also plans to use maps in the future to link Section numbers in different neighborhoods. 8 families to employers, transporta"The flipside to deconcentration tion and schools; show areas where efforts is that success can mean reaction or criticism from commuthere have been lead-based paint nities that feel. they are getting ~ ~ issues; and as part of a possible overwhelmed with Section 8," new initiative to set up satellite offices to better serve its clients . Melville says. "Now, when an official of some suburban area, maybe . The maps would show where the LHA's clients are and what the a councilman, complains that some particular neighborhood is best places would be to set up all Section 8, we can go to our data these offices. and say, 'That simply isn't so.'"~ Other LHAs, like Alameda, are On the flipside, the data can be partnering with planning departused to show the benefits of the ments or community development agencies. And, the next step could Housing Choice Voucher program and the resources it brings to combe Web-based applications. "I heard a community was using munities. Section 8 vouchers can Web-based mapping that measured be a form of stabilizing rent revSection 8 units against health data. enues and tax receipts for that. community. They were looking for community"Youcan show where your funds based initiatives," Basgal says. are going," Panchal says. "Youcan Although there are endless opportunities for the future, there is show where people are moving and what communities are getting an no doubt that LHAs are already seeinflux of money. Basically, you can ing the benefits of current mapping technology in their Section 8 vouchsay, 'We are giving so-and-so er programs. amount to your community: which "Instead of being just a percentis a good way to put a different light age or a number on a piece of on the information." paper, mapping adds a geographic dimension that makes our database Not a re more useful," Panchal says. Although mapping Section 8 con"Housing authorities are realizing tracts is a useful tool to show that an agency has deconcentrated its that you can do so much more with Section 8 program units, LHAs are your data." ~
Journal of Housing & Community Development