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Center for Housing Data helps shape Boston Foundation study

Posted on July 24, 2019

BOSTON --- Just a few months after launching its new, interactive DataTown web site, MHP’s Center for Housing Data was part of another ambitious data visualization and policy initiative – the Boston Foundation’s 16th annual Housing Report Card.

This year’s 118-page report - entitled “Supply, Demand and the Challenge of Local Control” – takes a detailed look at how Greater Boston is performing to meet its housing needs, examines the use of best practices by communities, explores the relationship between housing and racial segregation and concludes by assessing each Greater Boston community on measures of production, housing diversity, affordability, policy practices and racial diversity.

Paul Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation, said this year’s report builds upon the work of the 2018 report card, which urged municipalities to ”think creatively” about housing production. 

“This year’s report goes much further,” wrote Grogan in the report’s preface. “It looks closely at the Commonwealth’s practice of local control, otherwise known as ‘home rule,’ … and it raises concerns about the challenges that system poses.”

This is the first year that MHP’s Center for Housing Data participated in the research and publication of the report card. MHP was part of a research team that included Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, the UMass Donahue Institute, The Boston Foundation and Boston Indicators, the research center of The Boston Foundation. The research team was led by Dr. Alicia Sasser Modestino, associate professor of public policy, urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center. Sasser Modestino presented the report when it was released on June 25 before an audience at The Boston Foundation.

Main contributors to the report for MHP were Center for Housing Data co-directors Tom Hopper and Callie Clark, along with Lucas Munson, a data and policy associate. Most of the over 60 graphics in the report were created by Hopper through the use of the programming language R, which Hopper also used to build MHP’s DataTown web site. In a tweet after the report card's release, Hopper thanked the R community for helping him create the data visualizations.

MHP’s Clark worked with the UMass Donahue Institute on Chapter 2, which analyzed the prevalence of six housing best practices in 147 Greater Boston communities. Communities were surveyed on whether they had the following – multifamily permitting mechanisms, inclusionary zoning, accessory dwelling bylaws, mixed-use districts, Community Preservation Act and local affordable housing trusts.

Chapter 2 was bolstered by data from another new report called, The State of Zoning for Multi-family Housing in Greater Boston.” That report, released on June 3, was commissioned by the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA) and conducted by Amy Dain of Dain Research.  MHP was one of six organizations to financially support the report and MHP’s Clark was one of its chief editors.

Dr. Sasser Modestino authored Chapter 3, which looked at the relationship of housing production and racial segregation. This chapter highlights how the region has made strides toward desegregating its communities while affirming that there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity. 

Chapter 4 contains data to help to communities to assess their activity in five key areas. “Our hope is that the municipal assessments hold a mirror up to communities so they can see how they compare to their neighbors and the region as a whole,” said Clark.

In an effort to make the Housing Report Card more accessible, researchers from Boston Indicators digitized data from Chapters 2 and 4. For the first time, users can interact with the data on the Boston Indicators site. 

The report card's release received good media coverage that picked up on report's analysis of housing performance and segregation. The coverage included:

MHP's Center for Housing Data's contribution to the TBF report card comes on the heels of its release of DataTown in January, 2019. This new web site  compiles community-level information from various available data sources for all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns, and visualizes that data in graphics and charts. The site was designed, programmed and is maintained by MHP's Center for Housing Data. 

MHP's Center for Housing Data (CHD) was created in 2017 to expand on MHP's efforts to promote  policies to help the Commonwealth build more housing in response to demand. CHD was part of Governor Baker's interagency task force that created the Housing Choice designation and grant program. Last year, CHD built DataTown. This new web site, which went live in January, compiles community-level information into data visualizations for every Massachusetts community.  For more information, contact Callie Clark at or Tom Hopper at