Good Data Is Essential in the Fight Against Housing Insecurity

During the 2021 Code for America Summit earlier this month, experts discussed lessons they have learned using data to guide resource allocation and intervention efforts while combating housing insecurity.

Housing Session at virtual 2021 CfA Summit.
Bright Community Trust President and Chief Impact Officer Frank Wells; New America Policy Analyst for the Future of Land and Housing Program Timothy Robustelli; DataKind Senior Director of Product Caitlin Augustin; DataKind Director of Global Volunteers Shanna Lee; Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Fellow Nathan Poland; and Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani during the 2021 Code for America summit.
There is a growing push throughout all levels of government to use new and existing data sets to make more informed and equitable decisions about constituent housing issues — especially related to evictions.

The use of eviction data for early intervention and resource allocation was the topic of discussion during a 2021 Code for America Summit session entitled “You Can’t Go Home, but You Can’t Stay Here: Helping Local Leaders Combat the Impacts of Housing Insecurity Using Open Source Data and Tooling” earlier this month.

Participating experts agreed that there is a shift in momentum at the federal level with a new presidential administration, but each community has unique housing insecurity needs to address. Acquiring more comprehensive data and using it as a guide could help communities combat the issue, they argue.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: CHANGES AT A MICRO LEVEL


Eviction data is sensitive information that could potentially limit someone from acquiring future housing.

As such, Bright Community Trust President and Chief Impact Officer Frank Wells said these numbers do not tell the whole story. While the data may show the number of evictions filed against an individual, it leaves out other relevant data, such as late rent payments, broken leases and other related factors that occur before the eviction is filed.

The data becomes public record when an eviction is filed, and Wells pointed out that this data is being sold. He emphasized that everything that can be learned leading up to that point allows for earlier intervention.

This is where local governments at the city and county level play a critical role, according to Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-District 47.

“Because at the end of the day, these problems, yes they are macro, but there are so many micro solutions at a city, local level — so many opportunities to pilot programs and to really try to build relationships with tenants.”

Eskamani referred to ongoing discussions in her district about piloting a pro bono legal service for those facing evictions, explaining that those who have access to an attorney have a better chance of avoiding an eviction.

In addition to early intervention, experts agreed local government should utilize relevant data for better resource allocation.

Continuous data collection allows for better decisions for outreach and allocation of other resources, like rental assistance programs, according to New America Policy Analyst for the Future of Land and Housing Program Timothy Robustelli. He urged city and county IT departments to take the data from the courts and generate maps and insight that would allow local decision-makers to improve their communities.

Nathan Poland, innovation fellow for the Rockefeller Foundation, pointed to a specific use case. In 2020, Indianapolis officials used maps generated at the census tract level by New America to allocate $15 million worth of CARES Act funding with greater precision, targeting neighborhoods based on high risk of eviction and foreclosure supported by prior years’ data.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: CHANGES AT A MACRO LEVEL


But, the ability to act at the local level is often impacted by decisions at the federal level, panelists pointed out.

There is currently momentum at both the federal and local level, Robustelli acknowledged, but he admitted there is a need for more synergy between the two.

“There’s a need for capacity building at the local level when it comes to setting up data infrastructure and having the proper staff to collect, steward and share this data,” said Robustelli. “And hopefully that can come from Washington D.C., based on this better understanding [that there is need for more comprehensive eviction data].”

Wells acknowledged the federal dollars coming through the American Rescue Plan offer an additional 15 percent for administrative costs compared to the previous administration’s funding in this area.

SUPPORTING COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT


Each panelist highlighted the importance of centering the community in these efforts, with examples ranging from grassroots campaigns to education.

Eskamani cited a specific example of educating the community with a data presentation in Parramore, a historically Black community in Orlando. She said it is important to give back what is learned about a community through its data.

She separately stressed the importance of building a coalition around systemic housing issues with data as the guide, noting the intersectionality between housing and other community issues, like minimum wage and public transportation.

Open sourcing the data systems is another method of bringing the community into the decision-making process and empowering them to affect change.

Robustelli said opening data tools and platforms allows local decision-makers to input data and generate insights themselves with what he described as a “hyper-local knowledge of what’s happening.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.