Housing Needs Assessment and 10-Year Strategic Plan – Part IV

Resources and Tools

by Joseph Griffiths, AICP, Local Assistance and Training Manager, and Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner 

In the January edition of Planning Practice Monthly, we introduced the Maryland Housing Needs Assessment & 10-Year Strategic Plan (Needs Assessment) and how it can be of value to Maryland jurisdictions in developing the required Housing Elements in their comprehensive plans. In February we summarized Section 2 of the report, dealing with proposed statewide priorities, and in March we covered Section 3, which addressed the state of housing in Maryland.

This month, we offer a look inside of Section 4, Needs by region & core actions to address them. In May, we’ll review Section 5, Maryland Housing Toolbox. Finally in June, we will be launching a series of “how-to” articles for local governments seeking to incorporate the information and recommendations found in the Needs Assessment into the required housing element section of their comprehensive plans, as specified in HB 1045 (2019). 

The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) is seeking input from jurisdictions that have already employed the Needs Assessment in developing their housing element, or those that are embarking on the process, and would like to partner with Planning on an informative article on this topic. Interested readers will find contact links at the end of this article.

Section 4. Needs by region & core actions to address them

The Maryland Homeowner Stability Index and Maryland Renter Stability Index were developed as part of the Needs Assessment, with full technical documentation and a summary provided in Appendices F and G (Needs Assessment p. 213/PDF p. 218). The indices provide a way to understand and compare needs across Maryland within five geographic regions. Each region is made up of three or more adjacent counties. The regions and their counties are defined as:        

  • Greater Baltimore – Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties;
  • Washington DC Suburbs – Frederick, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties;
  • Eastern Maryland – Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester counties;                                              
  • Western Maryland – Allegany, Garrett, and Washington counties; and
  • Southern Maryland – Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties.

The Needs Assessment states that Section 4 “provides a brief summary of homeowner and renter needs by Maryland region and describes some of the core needs and actions identified by stakeholders as being especially important for their respective regions” (p. 31/PDF p. 36). The section includes demographic and housing market data for each region, such as: the number of households in the region; population; number of census tracts; and key data describing the housing market (i.e., median rents, home prices, mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates, percentage of units built pre-1980 and post-2000).

Census tracts within each region are characterized using key indicators of housing stability and divided into the categories (indices) of Lowest, Low, Moderate, High, and Highest Need. The needs are summarized, by category, for each region in tables titled Homeowner Needs by Category and Renter Needs by Category (i.e., see tables number 1 and 5 for the Greater Baltimore region, below).   

Figure 1 – Screenshot showing Tables 1 and 5 describing Renter and Homeowner Needs by Category for the Greater Baltimore Region. Needs Assessment, pp. 34 & 36/PDF pp. 39 & 41.

Maps identifying census tracts within the regions by Lowest, Low, Moderate, High, and Highest need, as well as tables breaking down census tracts by need, county, race and ethnicity, and special populations (i.e. people living with a disability, seniors) bring the indices into sharp focus and help readers identify areas which may require more housing intervention (see maps [numbered 1 and 2 in Section 4] and tables [numbered 2 and 6 in section 4] for the Greater Baltimore region, below).

Figure 2 – Screenshot showing Maps 1 and 2 visually depicting The Maryland Stability Index for renters and homeowners, respectively, in the Greater Baltimore Region. Needs Assessment, pp. 34 & 36/PDF pp. 39 & 41.

The Needs Assessment describes the homeowner stability index as showing areas “where homeowners are most stressed and where the housing market needs the most support. The highest need tracts in the categorical ranking in the index tend to have high poverty rates, older housing, high cost-burdens, high rates of crowding, and high shares of delinquent or foreclosed loans, and low home prices” (p. 214/PDF p.219).

The renter stability index is described as showing areas “where renters are stressed by cost and where the housing market serves the most vulnerable. The highest need tracts in the categorical ranking in the index tend to have high poverty rates, high rents, high cost-burdens, high rates of crowding, and large shares of residents receiving rental assistance” (p. 214/PDF p. 219).

Figure 3 – Screenshots showing Tables 2 and 6, which display the percentage of census tracts, per county, by need index category. Note that percentages are organized around need index category, not by county. The percentages sum to approximately 100% by column, not by row. Needs Assessment, p. 37/PDF p. 42.)

The Needs Assessment used many variables in the index calculations, differing in some areas for homeowners and renters. Table 1 in Appendix F, shown below, highlights these variables.

Figure 4 – Comparative tables of indices variables. Needs Assessment, p. 216/PDF p. 221.

The Needs Assessment project team, which included the National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) at the University of Maryland and Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., calculated the indices using a z-score statistical analysis (see Index Calculation, p. 216/PDF p. 221) of the variables listed above, and if applicable, trends since the year 2000. Simply put, z-scores show a variable’s distance, in terms of standard deviations, away from the mean, or average.

According to the housing needs assessment, “If a z-score is positive, that value lies above the mean. If the z-score is negative, the value lies below the mean. Z-scores illustrate where an observation falls on the normal distribution via the “bell curve”… 99.9% of observations fall within a z-score of -3 and +3 in the normal distribution. Most observations (about 68%) fall near zero: -1 to 1.” In other words, depending upon the housing need variable, a census tract with more housing need may be above or below the mean for the state.

For example, the number of foreclosures or rent cost-burden for a census tract with more housing need will likely be higher than the mean for Maryland.  For other housing need variables, like median household income or new housing construction, a census tract with more housing need will likely be lower than the mean for Maryland.  The project team combined and adjusted the z-score dispersions from the state mean for all variables to create the five index categories shown in Maps 1 and 2 in Figure 2. Please see Appendix F for a complete description of the index calculations (p. 213/PDF p. 218).

It is important to note that the indices were calculated using American Community Survey (ACS) 2013-2017 5-Year Estimates. The Census Bureau releases ACS 5-Year Estimates each year, moving up by 1-Year increments with each release (i.e., 2014-2018, 2015-2019, etc.). Even though the ACS data used in the Needs Assessment is a few years old, the indices should not be disregarded. While the numbers may change, the trends remain stable.

For example, the table below highlights the differences in a few ACS housing and economic variables for a Census Designated Place (CDP) in the Greater Baltimore Region between the 2013-2017 and 2016-2020 5-Year Estimates. Accounting for inflation, the data between the two 5-Year estimates is comparable, with the primary distinction being the increase in renter households and the share of those households that are cost-burdened, which means that they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on housing.

Figure 5 – Comparison of selected income and housing ACS 5-Year Estimates data for a Greater Baltimore Region CDP. Source: American Community Survey (ACS) data, U.S. Census.

Planning discussed the statewide trend of increasing housing cost-burden for renters in our March Needs Assessment article. While a jurisdiction should always use the most current census and ACS data for its planning needs, the Needs Assessment analysis remains informative for a jurisdiction developing a housing element.

Section 4 also provides a series of bullet points describing the priority needs among homeowners and renters and the corresponding priority actions to serve them (presented side by side in columnar format) for each region. For this article, we will look more closely at the Greater Baltimore Region.

The Needs Assessment describes the following priority needs/issues for homeowners and renters in the region:

Figure 6 – Priority needs for homeowners and renters in the Greater Baltimore Region. Needs Assessment, pp. 38 & 39/PDF pp. 43 & 44.

The priority list does not stop with a description of needs, but also suggests priority actions that jurisdictions within regions can implement to address the areas of need. For homeowners in the Greater Baltimore Region, the Needs Assessment suggests increasing homeowner education and tools for foreclosure prevention and home maintenance, streamlining the acquisition-rehabilitation process, and increasing funding for homebuyers. For renters, it suggests increasing the supply of income-restricted homes, tenant education, and rental assistance, as well as offering incentives and education for landlords.

Finally, Section 4 includes a summary of “cross-cutting issues of regional importance” at the end of each regional discussion. For example, for the Greater Baltimore region, these were identified as seen in Figure 7, below.

Figure 7 – Screenshot showing summary of cross-cutting issues of regional importance for the Greater Baltimore Region. Needs Assessment, p.39/PDF p. 44.

The indices, priority needs, and priority actions can aid jurisdictions that are completing a comprehensive plan housing element. The indices demonstrate areas within a jurisdiction, in the form of census tracts, which may require more housing intervention. The priority needs and actions inform planners and local leaders about potential policies and implementation actions that a housing element might include to increase the supply and accessibility of affordable housing for homeowners and renters in their community at varying income levels.

Planning recommends that planners and others interested in affordable housing in their communities reference the Housing Element Models & Guidelines’ (M&G) Housing Practices and Affordable Housing Resources sections to learn more about high leverage policies, practices, and resources to consider in their comprehensive plans.  The M&G also includes a link to the Local Housing Solutions website, which includes a wealth of information on affordable housing strategies.

For more information about the 2020 Maryland Housing Needs Assessment and 10-Year Strategic Plan, please contact Bernice Mensah, Director, Housing Economic Research Office, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development at bernice.mensah@maryland.gov, or Joe Griffiths, Planning’s Local Assistance and Training Manager at joseph.griffiths@maryland.gov. 

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