What can we learn from current or previous efforts to link evidence-based outcomes to policy or program development (in the housing sector or elsewhere)?
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To illustrate the power of focusing on housing program outcomes, it is helpful to contrast two examples – one in which research has helped to inform policy development and a second in which an important program demonstration was launched without a strong research design, inhibiting efforts to study its effectiveness. Case 1 – Supportive Housing. A landmark research study by Dennis P. Culhane, Stephen Metraux, and Trevor Hadley found that the costs of providing supportive housing for people with severe mental illness were offset nearly entirely by savings resulting from reduced usage of public shelters, public and private hospitals, and correctional facilities. This research has had a strong impact on policy, supporting strong increases in government funding for supportive housing programs which in turn has helped to reduce the incidence of chronic homelessness in many communities.
Case 2 – Moving to Work.
In 1996, Congress established the Moving to Work Demonstration to test different strategies for improving efficiency in the public housing and housing choice voucher programs and for helping assisted families make progress toward economic self-sufficiency. Agencies participating in the program have adopted a range of interesting strategies. Unfortunately, the lack of consistently available data on program outcomes and the absence of control groups at most of the demonstration sites have made the program’s impacts difficult to evaluate. As a result, after 15+ years, we have much less solid data on program impacts than would be desirable, hindering efforts to expand the demonstration’s flexibility to other agencies and depriving the field of much needed information on how to achieve the demonstration’s goals.
The clear take-away for me is that research and evaluation matters. If we want to maximize the efficiency and the effectiveness of public investments in affordable housing, we need to incorporate evaluation more holistically into the nation’s housing programs and then use the lessons learned to strengthen the programs, helping us assist more households more effectively at lower cost.
Jeffrey Lubell is Executive Director of the Center for Housing Policy.
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