Why do a housing needs assessment?

Shelter is the most basic of human needs. When individuals can secure stable and affordable housing near locations of jobs and opportunity, they can focus on achieving other life goals, such as education, career advancement, health and wellness, or raising a family. Without stable and affordable housing, these other life goals are often pushed to the sideline.

The availability of decent and affordable housing is also essential to a well-functioning community. When workers can’t live close to their jobs, they commute longer distances, adding to pollution and traffic congestion on local streets. A lack of affordable housing also makes it difficult to recruit, hire, and retain employees such as teachers and nurses. Students in families struggling with housing insecurity often have increased challenges in school and require greater attention and resources.

Many aspects of the housing market are out of the control of local jurisdictions. However, there are actions that a city or county can take to allow, encourage, direct, and support the development of new housing or preservation of existing stock. The purpose of conducting a housing needs assessment is to support informed decision making about which actions are most likely to result in the kinds of housing that are in greatest need. BERK supports communities in addressing housing challenges by developing needs assessments as well as housing strategies and implementation plans.

Phase 1. Assess housing needs and market dynamics

We often begin by analyzing data and trends about the current housing inventory (both market-rate and subsidized), housing costs, demographic and household characteristics, population growth projections, and development activity. We also analyze the characteristics of the local workforce, including wage levels and home locations, to help identify those who may be priced out of the local market. When quality data about a topic is in short supply, we’ve developed efficient methods of generating useful data from sources such as online rental listings. Many of our studies look at emerging trends such as the impacts of short-term rental websites on the availability of housing for local full-time residents. The purpose of this work is to assess the gaps between current needs and what the housing market is providing.

Phase 2. Devise strategies for addressing current and future housing needs.

During this phase, many jurisdictions conduct community outreach to identify which kinds of housing solutions can both address needs and are compatible with the neighborhood character. Outreach to local for-profit and nonprofit housing developers can also be helpful to understanding the barriers they face in building desired housing projects. The goal is to develop a set of policies to guide future actions.

Phase 3. Develop an action plan

Building off of the housing strategy, we work with jurisdictions to identify short- and medium-term actions the community can take to address housing needs. This phase may include more detailed studies to determine the potential impacts of proposed actions on the housing market and development feasibility, such as zoning changes or new incentives or requirements for affordable housing.

If you have concerns about housing needs in your community, we would love to talk with you. Please contact Kevin Ramsey or info@berkconsulting.com.