housing needs assessment: overview
This section of the toolkit is a resource for collecting, organizing, and analyzing information specific to individual communities. It is intended to help community groups and local officials determine the need for affordable housing in their cities and towns.

Working through this section will give you a better understanding of the need for rental housing, affordable homeownership, senior housing, and special needs housing in your community. It will also help you identify the necessity of addressing challenges like blight, foreclosure, and seasonal housing.

Using the Assessment Guide

The Housing Needs Assessment Guide is designed for use by people with varying backgrounds, including citizens who may have little or no prior experience in the housing field, as well as municipal staff and other housing and planning professionals. Community members can use the tools to identify housing opportunities and evaluate how well they meet the need for a particular type of housing. If the community has a housing production plan approved by the Department of Housing and Community Development, some of this information should be readily available in that plan. To find out whether your community has an approved housing production plan, go to http://www.mass.gov/hed/community/40b-plan/housing-production-plan.html

Cady Brook
Cady Brook, Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC)
First steps

Why start with understanding need?

Often communities find themselves discussing local housing and wondering whether proposed development projects address significant needs or should be high on the priority list. Identifying gaps or needs is a first step in planning how, when, and where to address local housing issues. Once a situation is understood, goals and priorities can be set, resources identified, and strategies chosen.

What is "need"? 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 that should be addressed?
  • 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?
Most communities consider it favorable when residents are able to remain there throughout their lives. This typically involves living in different types of housing at different life stages. A useful starting point in defining housing need is to reflect on how achievable that is in your own community.

How do you get the necessary information?

Much of the baseline information needed to answer housing needs questions can be found in data provided by the U.S. Census or its counterpart, the American Community Survey. What Questions to Ask and the Data Collection Templates are set up to use with each of the needs categories you may want to analyze, including:Affordable Rental Housing, Affordable Homeownership, Senior Housing, and Special Needs Housing.

What follows is a series of questions commonly asked by
Data Collection Templates:
communities to determine housing need and to identify the gap between the actual cost of available housing and what residents can afford. Complete each category or skip to the sections that are of use to you. You are encouraged to expand upon or modify the information to tell your community's unique housing story.

Click on the links below to learn more about conducting a housing needs assessment:

Erie-Ellington HomesWhat Questions to Ask
Ask questions that will enable you to understand your community’s housing needs.

Bedford Veterans SROAccessing the Information
Learn how to access the main sources of demographic, economic, and local market information.

Foundry SquareAnalyzing the Information
Put the relevant information that you have collected in the proper perspective.

Chestnut Gardens Moving from Information to Action
Take concrete steps toward meeting your community's housing needs.

Go back to learn about other policies in the Massachusetts Toolkit