Geographic Information Systems for Housing and
Housing for the poor in America's cities is often separated from where the middle class lives, and isolated from basic services, such as health care, daycare, retail stores, and libraries. But now urban planners are using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, to build low-income housing with improved access to such places as medical clinics, supermarkets, public transportation, and job-training facilities. GIS is a computer system that stores and analyzes all the data relevant to a particular place, but it's more than just a map. With layers of information about local geography, roads, building sites, socio-economic conditions, and more, GIS can give planners and prospective residents alike answers to questions such as what environmental hazards are nearby and what the best commuting options are for residents.
Recognizing the potential of GIS, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has begun to collect and analyze GIS data. Recently, it asked the National Research Council for advice on how to improve the agency's use of GIS in fulfilling its mission of providing affordable housing and promoting home ownership in vibrant, safe communities, free from discrimination.
The Research Council's report says that as a first step HUD should meet the standard data format used by the Federal Geographic Data Committee, an interagency group set up by President Clinton in 1994 to establish the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), a one-stop shop for GIS information. HUD should also make its GIS data available on the Internet. This will give low-income households access to the same type of property and neighborhood information that buyers of more expensive homes can currently obtain from such sources as Realtor.com. In collecting and disseminating data, the agency will need to ensure that confidential information about residents is not made public, especially on the Internet, the report adds.
The agency should take advantage of the wealth of data collected by its 81 field offices to create an agency-wide GIS that assesses such things as how HUD ventures have affected neighborhood stability and what the educational and employment opportunities are in areas under consideration for investment, the report says. The agency should also use data about metropolitan conditions provided by its field offices to create an urban component to the NSDI.
In addition, HUD should expand its research into housing trends, the changing demographics of neighborhoods, and the geographic distribution of poverty in the United States. -- Bill Kearney
GIS for Housing and Urban Development. Committee on Review of Geographic Information Systems Research and Applications at HUD: Current Programs and Future Prospects; Committee on Geography, Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, Division on Earth and Life Studies (2003, 142 pp.; ISBN 0-309-08874-7; available from National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $31.75 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).
The GIS committee was chaired by Eric A. Anderson, chief executive officer and city manager of Des Moines, Iowa. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.