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Profiling Metropolitan Areas With the 2011 American Housing Survey

Image of Kurt Usowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs
Kurt Usowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs
For 40 years, the American Housing Survey (AHS) has been the nation's premier source of data on housing quality and costs. Conducted every 2 years, AHS covers a range of topics including plumbing and source of water and sewage disposal; housing problems; householder's satisfaction with home and neighborhood; value, purchase price, and type of mortgage; recent home improvement activity; and socioeconomic characteristics of the householder. HUD sponsors AHS and conducts it in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2011, the AHS included a national survey along with surveys of 29 metropolitan areas throughout the nation. In July 2013, HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau released housing profiles for each of the 29 metropolitan areas. These profiles provide a snapshot of housing costs, mortgages, and various physical and financial characteristics of housing in these metropolitan areas.

A key focus of the metropolitan housing profiles was housing costs for homeowners, including mortgage costs, insurance, taxes, utilities, and routine maintenance expenses. Generally speaking, housing costs on the east and west coasts of the United States are higher than in those in the Midwest and South, and housing costs are higher in metropolitan areas compared with nonmetropolitan areas. Median monthly housing costs for homeowners in metropolitan areas nationwide was about $1,100 in 2011 compared with $663 for those in nonmetropolitan areas. However, a great deal of variation exists in housing costs between metropolitan areas. For instance, San Jose ($2,430) and San Francisco ($2,232) are two of the nation's most expensive housing markets, coming in at more than twice the median cost of metropolitan areas in general. In contrast, Indianapolis ($987) and Memphis ($958) are well below the median cost of metropolitan areas in general.

Housing quality was another key focus of the metropolitan housing profiles. The profiles included two indicators — leaks coming from outside your housing unit and signs of mold within the past 12 months — that demonstrate how poor housing quality (i.e., leaks) can lead to potential negative health impacts (i.e., mold). Through the metropolitan housing profiles, we can then see how housing quality issues vary across the country. For example, 16.8 percent of occupied housing units in the Pittsburgh metro area reported leaks from outside in 2011, whereas only 9 percent of occupied housing units in the Dallas metro area reported such leaks. Since Dallas and Pittsburgh receive approximately the same amount of rainfall each year, what accounts for the difference in leak rates? A closer examination of the data reveals two possible reasons. First, basements, a frequent source of leaks, are common in Pittsburgh housing units while virtually nonexistent in Dallas housing units. Second, Pittsburgh’s housing stock, with a median year built of 1955, is far older than that of Dallas, with a median built year of 1989. As a result, residents of Pittsburgh housing units were nearly twice is likely to report seeing mold in the past 12 months compared with residents of Dallas housing units (4.4 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.)

AHS Metropolitan housing profiles are available at: