What is a Housing Needs Assessment and How Do You Use It?

Puzzle HousePurpose and Users

A comprehensive Housing Needs Assessment typically involves compilation and evaluation of specific demographic data, economic characteristics and trends, current housing inventory and characteristics, government policies and incentives, and the adequacy and availability of selected community services, as well as collecting the input of area stakeholders and residents. The assessment concludes with quantifying the number of housing units needed in the market by tenure (rentals vs. for-sale), price point, bedroom type and market segment (e.g. families, seniors, disabled, young professionals, etc.). The assessment also typically provides recommendations on how to achieve certain housing goals and will provide recommendations on potential housing policy initiatives that would benefit the local housing market. In instances where a community has available land that could be used to develop new housing or the adaptive reuse of existing structures, site-specific analysis can also be included as part of an overall Housing Needs Assessment. An analysis can even be conducted on submarkets or select neighborhoods within the subject community. In short, a Housing Needs Assessment can be customized to meet the specific needs of a community.

The users and beneficiaries of a Housing Needs Assessment are broad. Typically, a Housing Needs Assessment is used by local governments to identify housing issues and solutions that can be used to make strategic decisions related to the housing market and is often used as a basis for future housing and policy decisions and/or to secure financing for various housing programs and projects. Additionally, the assessment is used by local entities (government, economic development, chamber of commerce, etc.) to attract and encourage residential development activity and investment. Such assessments can also be used by social services organizations to understand housing issues specific to their interests and allow them to focus on ways to meet the needs of certain special needs populations (e.g. homeless, disabled, etc.). These assessments are also used by private developers and non-profit entities to identify areas of development potential so that they can strategically develop the types of housing most needed in the community. Finally, the assessment will enable local leaders and residents of the community to provide valuable insight as to the housing challenges they see in the market and help interested parties understand where focus should be placed on addressing such challenges. As such, a Housing Needs Assessment provides the information and tools for a variety of entities to make data-driven decisions about the area’s housing needs.


The components (scope of work) of a Housing Needs Assessment can vary greatly. However, the most basic assessment should include the following:

Identification of the Study Area(s): The foundation of the analysis is the establishment of the Primary Study Area (PSA). The PSA is the geographic area from which demographic and economic factors influence housing needs. Typically, this includes the subject city, county or region for which the Housing Needs Assessment was requested. At times, secondary study areas (SSAs) are established that consist of a broader geographic area, such as a county or region that has influence on a PSA.

Evaluation of Demographics & Economics: A socio-economic profile should be created for the PSA and any SSAs established. The profiles provide in-depth details about the market areas, including population and household characteristics, development characteristics, economic characteristics, current housing stock, and the housing market conditions. Information should include current year information, as well as projections. Sources used include: U.S. Census, ESRI, HISTA, local auditor/assessor, interviews with city officials and other experts, and in-house and “on the ground” field research.

Evaluation of Community Services: An overview of services available to residents, including, but not limited to, parking alternatives, public transit, shopping, medical, public safety and recreational facilities. These identified services will be evaluated to determine how they affect potential demand for housing.

Housing Stock Inventory (Supply):
-This section of the assessment should include:Housing stock characteristics that are analyzed and displayed for the study areas (based on U.S. Census data and ACS data). These characteristics include, but are not limited to, housing tenure (renter vs. owner), age of housing, general housing condition, housing values, rent levels, etc.
-Inventory of rental housing supply that includes multifamily rental housing properties in the study areas, including government-subsidized and affordable Tax Credit properties, as well as market-rate properties.
-Inventory of for-sale housing supply that includes data for the subject market from sources such as Multiple Listing Services, Realtor.com, and the local tax assessor. Data should be collected and analyzed for both historical sales (typically from 2010 to current) and available for-sale housing alternatives. This will provide valuable information such as sales trends, including pricing, and the product that is currently available for purchase.
-Identification of projects in the development pipeline and residential foreclosures.

Stakeholder Interviews: The goal of these interviews is to obtain local insight from area stakeholders regarding current housing conditions and trends, to identify anticipated housing needs, and to determine if there are barriers that exist that may limit residential development in the market. Stakeholders will be asked for input on what housing products or markets should be a priority for the area. This insight is used in conjunction with quantitative data to assess market issues.

Housing Gap Analysis (Demand Estimates): Based on the existing housing stock within the study area and both current and projected demographics, a housing gap analysis will be completed for the PSA and possibly the larger SSA. The gap analysis will determine whether a deficit or surplus of housing units exists for households at various income bands for rental and for-sale housing. The demand analysis will consider existing current household estimates, as well as household growth projections by income and tenure. The rental demand calculations should also consider cost-burdened households and those living in substandard housing. The for-sale demand calculations will take into consideration household growth and the need for replacement housing (older, substandard housing).

The analysis should include housing gap estimates for each target market by identifying net gain, decline and demand of market-rate and income-restricted housing utilizing various levels of income stratifications. These may include income levels that correspond to various federal and state financing programs that would allow users of the report to understand if there are housing finance programs that may be utilized to help support the development of housing.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The conclusions typically summarize the depth of the market for additional housing within the PSA. Specific conclusions may include recommendations for the types of housing development that should be pursued and supported, as well as types of housing that will be needed in the short, medium and long term (projected five years ahead, or longer), recommendations as to the types of programs that the local government should consider expanding or providing for the development/redevelopment of necessary housing and recommended priorities for funding of projects.

Optional/Supplemental Services

There are additional research and analysis services that may be deemed to be beneficial to the assessment of the area’s housing needs. These are often separate from standard work elements, as they are often not required or may add to the costs and timing of the report that may exceed the users limitations. These include the following work elements:

Homeless and Special Needs Housing: Because interested stakeholders and other parties may apply for future grants and funding involving special needs, this optional service would evaluate homeless and special needs population and housing data. It would include an evaluation of how and to what extent housing availability has impacted various homeless and special needs households, and an inventory of homeless and special needs housing and demographics as well as stakeholder input from those familiar with these groups. Special needs groups vary in type but typically include the disabled, persons with HIV/AIDS, children aging out of foster care, recently released convicts, farm workers, etc.

Resident Survey: A resident survey would allow for area residents to provide their opinion and insight as to what type of housing development is needed. The survey can be conducted online, or in-person at public venues such as grocery stores, senior centers, etc., or a combination of both online and in-person. The survey can be customized to address the specific challenges a community faces.

Cost Estimates and Timing

The costs estimates and timing of a Housing Needs Assessment will vary based on the scope of work commissioned and the size of the community. Typically, most Housing Needs Assessments are priced between $10,000 and $75,000 and can take between two months to one year. The addition of special analysis or data collection can add significantly to the cost and timing of a report. It is recommended that the scope of work focus on answering core housing issues facing the community.

Patrick Bowen Presents at Nebraska Investment Finance Authority’s Housing Innovation Marketplace


On March 22, 2016, Patrick Bowen presented at the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority’s 2016 Housing Innovation Marketplace. The session was titled “Housing Market Studies” and was moderated by Ms. Casey Cline, Development Director at Travois. Additional panelists included Mr. Timothy M. Keelan, Principal Partner
of HANNA:KEELAN ASSOCIATES, P.C. and Mr. Brian Wilson, MAI, Commercial Real Estate Appraiser with Wilson Valuation LLC.

Mr. Bowen’s presentation involved a review of housing market study components and included an overview of NIFA’s market study guidelines. This presentation is available here and in the Research Center at www.bowennational.com.

Patrick Bowen Presents at the Virginia Housing Credit Conference

On Thursday, October 8, 2015, Patrick Bowen presented at the Virginia Housing Credit Conference, sponsored by the Virginia Housing Coalition and held at The Westin in Richmond, Virginia. Additional panelists included Jaynell Pittman-Shaw, Senior Allocation Officer with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, and Corine Sheridan, Vice President, Director of Origination with Boston Capital. The session was moderated by JD Bondurant, the Assistant Director of Low Income Housing Tax Credit Programs at the Virginia Housing Development Authority.

The title of the session was “Virginia’s Market: What’s Hot, What’s Not” and the purpose was to provide an understanding of where markets in Virginia have been and where they are going. Patrick Bowen provided attendees with an overview of the Tax Credit rental housing market in Virginia, as well as in 10 major cities throughout the state. Information presented included an overview of collected Tax Credit rents and vacancy rates of more than 100 LIHTC projects in the state. According to Mr. Bowen, “Based on our research, there aren’t any weak rental markets among the existing LIHTC supply and several markets have vacancy rates below 2.0%.”. Mr. Bowen added, “There are many low-income housing development opportunities in the state. It’s just a matter of finding the right project to fit the market’s needs.” This presentation is available here and in the Research Center at www.bowennational.com.

Patrick Bowen Presents Downtown Morgantown Retail Analysis


On Tuesday, June 30, 2015, Patrick Bowen presented findings from a Downtown Retail Feasibility Study, conducted for Main Street Morgantown in West Virginia. Below is an article written after this presentation.

Study: Parking, safety could be reasons for vacant retail space

Andrew Hesner


MORGANTOWN — A feasibility study on downtown Morgantown and the Wharf District shows that of the surveyed 374,586 square feet of retail space, more than 8 percent is vacant.

And although this is slightly lower than the regional and national averages, leasing rates for downtown retail space are “substantially lower than those reported at competitive shopping centers in Morgantown,” according to the study.

The study, presented by Patrick Bowen, owner and founder of Ohio-based Bowen National Research, on Tuesday night, June 30, to the Morgantown City Council Committee of the Whole (COW), attributes the low rates to parking, traffic and safety concerns from stakeholders, and many spaces being in poor condition.

A COW meeting is a non-voting, and discussion-based session with the council.

The more than 200-page report, solicited to Bowen by Main Street Morgantown, assesses current retail market conditions, shopping centers outside downtown and provides recommendations to fix retail problems.

Charlie McEwuen, of Main Street Morgantown, after hearing the presentation, gave the council an update as to what Main Street is doing.

“Bottom line is … according to a lot of the downtown merchants, safety is a very important factor right now, or the perception of safety.”

And although McEwuen said he feels comfortable and safe downtown, he has heard that many do not. And to address that issue, he suggested adding more lighting and addressing “probably the No. 1 topic for all downtown merchants … undesirables. … We have some homeless downtown, but most of the people that are causing concern for our customers, for a lack of better word, I’m going to call them bums — they are just people that hang out downtown and intimidate passersby.”

He recommended adding more police officers on the streets.

The study used demographic data for population, households, and employment came from ESRI, the 2000 and 2010 United States Census, Applied Geographic Solutions, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the American Community Survey, according to the report.

Downtown Housing Needs Assessment in Charleston, WV

In January of this year Bowen National Research were hired by the Charleston Area Alliance to conduct a Downtown Housing Needs Assessment in Charleston, West Virginia.  Patrick Bowen, the principal and author of the report, presented the report’s findings last Tuesday (April 21st) at the Charleston Area Alliance “Think Tank” event.  You can read more about the presentation via the link below of the article in the Charleston Gazette.


In addition, Mr. Bowen’s presentation also made television on the local news channels WCHS and WSAZ in Charleston.  You can visit the link below to view the short video.


Regional Housing Needs Assessment for the City of Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville PresentationBowen National Research recently completed a regional housing needs assessment for the city of Asheville, North Carolina that included analyses of the city of Asheville and the four-county region of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties.  The principal, Patrick Bowen, had the opportunity to present the study several times last week to groups of city officials around the Asheville area.

Bowen National Research is an Ohio-based real estate research firm that conducts a variety of real estate studies throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  Notable studies recently completed by the firm include studies of Springfield (Illinois), Morgantown (West Virginia), Nederland (Colorado), Joplin (Missouri), Evansville (Indiana) and a statewide analysis of Vermont.  According to the firm’s President, Patrick Bowen, “Government entities understand the value of the comprehensive housing and retail studies our firm provides and the benefits they offer as a key element to their strategic planning and marketing efforts.  Plus, our clients benefit from our experience of evaluating growing and stagnant markets, small towns to entire states, and even studies focused on neighborhoods or downtowns.”

These types of large-scale reports are very beneficial for city, county and state governments, as well as the private sector, as they illustrate the current and future demographic, economic, and housing trends of the selected area.  These reports are valued as an essential planning tool for our clients and bring to light issues that may have never been discovered otherwise.  This particular report highlights on the overall issue that the city of Asheville is predicted to face: large demographic growth and lack of available housing.  To read more about the report please see the link below of the news article summarizing the study or contact Patrick Bowen at patrickb@bowennational.com or at 614-833-9300.  You can also visit our website for additional information at www.bowennational.com.



Ohio Statewide Tax Credit Rental Housing Data

OHCoverSince 2011, our firm has been conducting statewide rental housing surveys on Tax Credit properties for various states that we select. Thus far we have surveyed nine different states, which include Georgia (2013), Indiana (2012), Iowa (2012), Kentucky (2013), Ohio (2014 our most recent), Pennsylvania (2012), South Carolina (2012), Tennessee (2013),  and Virginia (2012).  These surveys are all conducted by telephone and include properties that only operate with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (both 4% and 9%).   Some of these projects also operate with a project-based subsidy, such as Section 8 or Rural Development 515, and/or have market-rate units.  While these surveys do not include all Tax Credit rental housing projects, we aim to survey approximately 75% of the published Tax Credit rental housing alternatives in each state, which provides a good representation of the affordable Tax Credit rental housing market conditions in each state surveyed.

            We recently completed a statewide rental housing survey in the state of Ohio that included 815 rental projects comprising 57,072 Tax Credit units.  There were 1,146 vacant Tax Credit units, yielding an overall occupancy rate of 98.0%.  Note that our housing data is segmented between non-subsidized Tax Credit units and Tax Credit units that operate with a concurrent subsidy.  The occupancy rate among the non-subsidized Tax Credit units was 97.1%, while the occupancy rate among Tax Credit/Government-Subsidized units was 99.2%.  The statewide median collected rents for studio up to four-bedroom units range from $323 to $725.  We also derived the median collected rents on a county level as well as the occupancy rates.  To access the full Ohio statewide rental housing survey, including aggregate occupancy and rental data, overall demographic growth trends, low-income household growth trends, general economic data and more, please visit the Research Center on our website.  You can also see the full statewide reports of all nine states our firm has conducted.

            Although we are not hired to conduct these statewide rental housing surveys, we complete these reports for several reasons.  One of those reasons is for our internal use.  It makes our process more efficient when we have this data readily available in our database.  This improves our accuracy and turn around time for site-specific feasibility studies.  Secondly, it expands our coverage areas.  It ultimately adds to our expertise in these markets, specifically, the states we do a vast amount of work in.  Lastly, and most importantly, we can assist our current and future clients to identify markets that are performing well in terms of housing conditions and demographics, and what markets are lacking affordable housing.  With these statewide rental housing surveys we are able to see a quick summary of the entire state’s affordable rental housing market conditions including breakdowns by county levels.  This is valuable information to our clients as it gives great insight into that state’s affordable rental housing market.  Although it is not an in depth analysis, it is a good starting point for developers.

Importance of a Market Feasibility Analysis

Houses with arrows - HM cropped

End users such as developers, syndicators and/or state agencies often hire professional market analysts to conduct a market feasibility analysis (market study) for a proposed development within a particular market.  But what is the need for, or importance of, a market study?  Further, and more importantly, what makes a good market study?

The need for, or importance of, a market study is quite simple.  This analysis is to provide a disinterested third party point of view for a given project based on the project’s competitive position within a particular market, while also determining the demand for the proposed project within that market.  Conversely, the components which make-up a good market study are more complex and can vary greatly depending upon the proposed project type.  However, there are several key components which every market study should include.

First and foremost, a Primary Market Area (PMA) must be established by the analyst, based on the proposed project’s location and project type.  This is the smallest geographic area from which the majority of support for a proposed project is expected to originate.  Accurately defining a project’s market area is crucial to providing an accurate and effective market study.  If an analyst defines a PMA which encompasses too large of an area, it is possible that demand for the proposed project will be overstated, which could result in the development of a project that is too large for a particular market.  Likewise, if an analyst is too conservative and defines a market area that encompasses too small of an area, it is possible that demand will be understated, potentially resulting in the development of a project that is too small and does not meet the needs of the market.  Inaccurately defining a PMA, primarily one that is too large could also result in the identification of inaccurate comparable properties.

Once a PMA has accurately been defined by an analyst, research of market trends should begin.  This includes, but is not limited to, identifying comparable/competitive properties, analyzing demographic and economic trends, conducting interviews with local stakeholders and identifying any comparable projects in the development pipeline within a given market.  The identification of comparable properties along with any comparable projects in the development pipeline is particularly important, as this along with the demographic trends will ultimately determine the type and size of product a particular market could realistically support.  The identification of accurate comparable properties will also help provide guidance in determining the competitive position of a project within a given market in terms of unit and project design, achievable rents and amenities offered.  This is particularly important during the early stages of development, as the identification of accurate comparable properties will ensure the developer does not leave out any key features being offered in a market, or include features that are not desired in a market.  In addition to analyzing the competitive position of a project within a market, it is also important that the impact a proposed project may have on existing comparable properties is considered.  In essence, a strong market will be able to support a new project without adversely impacting future occupancy rates among the existing comparable supply.

As indicated earlier, demographic and economic trends within a given market also play a crucial role in providing an accurate market study.  While overall demographic trends (population and household counts) are important components to a market study, more specific demographic trends should also be analyzed, based on the proposed product type.  For example, if the proposed development will target seniors or a specific special needs population (i.e. homeless, substance abuse, disabled, etc.), analysis of demographic trends within these demographic segments should be conducted, as often trends within such demographic segments differ from overall demographic trends within a market.  Economic trends such as business expansion, new business development and/or business closures/layoffs are also important factors to consider when conducting a market study, as economic growth often times will result in increased housing demand, while large-scale layoffs/closures could potentially result in a significant number of residents relocating to other areas, thus diminishing the need for housing in a given market.

If the market study being conducted is site specific (proposed site already determined), an on-site evaluation of the proposed site is also important, as this will reveal specific site attributes that could potentially impact marketability of a proposed development, both positively and negatively.  These include site accessibility, visibility, proximity to area services and an evaluation of surrounding land uses to determine the overall marketability of a proposed site.

Based on the key components discussed above, a market study should provide valuable insight to the end user in regards to the competitive position of a particular project, and more importantly, the need/demand for a particular project in a given market.  In conclusion, a competitive project is not always needed and a needed project is not always competitive; a good market study should be able to tell the story of what type of product is both needed and competitive within a given market.

How Tribal Housing Authorities Can Improve Telling the Story of Housing Needs

As part of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, applicants for Tax Credits are required to submit a variety of documents and reports to their state housing finance agency as part of the application process.  One element of the application process is a market feasibility study.  Market feasibility studies are reports that include such things as demographic, economic and housing data for a particular market.  These reports are typically conducted by qualified market analysts, who often must be approved to conduct such studies within the respective state.  While market studies include a variety of data from secondary sources such as the U.S. Census bureau, this secondary data often under reports pertinent data in rural markets, particularly in Indian Country.  Evidence of such under reporting on tribal reservations includes markets in which the tribal housing authority operates more rental units on the reservation than the number of renter-occupied housing units reported in the U.S. Census for the same reservation.  As a result, such under reporting often underestimates the actual number of households that suffer from such things as rent burden or over crowded housing situations.  This becomes important when state housing finance agencies assess data presented by the tribal housing authority or the market analyst who prepared a market feasibility study for the tribe.


However, tribes and tribal housing authorities can compensate for the shortcomings in secondary data sources by collecting, maintaining and sharing such data.  For example, many tribal housing authorities maintain wait lists for the next available housing units under the housing authority’s jurisdiction.  Often these lists vary in the level of details they contain and the frequency they are updated.  Because secondary data often fails to accurately account for the true depth of housing problems in Indian Country, detailed and current housing authority wait lists may often be the most compelling evidence a tribal housing authority has to make its case that there truly is a need for additional affordable housing on a particular reservation.


As tribal housing authorities move forward with the planning of their next affordable housing project, a component to that plan should be the collection of detailed wait list information for available housing.  Information regarding household sizes (number of residents in a unit), age of head of household and household income levels of those on the wait list are just some of the items that could become critical in presenting the case for the need for affordable housing.  For more information on housing needs and tribal housing related matters, please contact Patrick Bowen at Bowen National Research at patrickb@bowennational.com or 614-833-9300.


Welcome to Bowen National Research’s New Blog!

Welcome to BNR’s new blog! Are you interested in the latest news, trends and up to date knowledge in the real estate industry? If so, you are in the right place! We will be utilizing this space to share real estate information that we have researched, analyzed or discovered in our process of conducting market feasibility studies, housing needs assessments, and various real estate research services. We are a national firm so expect to find real estate news from all over the country on our blog. In addition, if you have a particular interest in any of our blog topics or posts, please let us know if we can help you explore that topic further. We are here to assist in all of your real estate research needs!