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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Desmond’s Innovative Survey Methods to be Integrated into HUD’s American Housing Survey

As Matthew Desmond, author of this year’s Go Big Read book Evicted, began his research on eviction in the city of Milwaukee several years ago, he found that both court records and academic literature failed to answer many of his questions surrounding eviction. In his initial search for information, he “found no study – no readily available data – that addressed [his] questions” (Evicted, p. 328). This posed an obvious problem to his research and left many integral questions unanswered; and, as it turned out, he would have to find the data himself.

In need of answers, Desmond developed a groundbreaking survey, the Milwaukee Area Renters Study, or “MARS”. This comprehensive survey, which involved 1,100 tenants across the city, was overseen by our own University of Wisconsin Survey Center (UWSC), “an academic research organization that specializes in reaching understudied groups: kids in foster care, welfare recipients, the homeless” Andrew Flowers, FiveThirtyEight. With the support of the UWSC’s top-notch training program and skilled team of workers, the MARS survey had an incredible response rate. And, opposed to past research (which seemed to be asking the wrong questions about housing), the MARS survey proved to ask the right ones. All 250 questions prompted tangible responses from participants about matters involving eviction, housing, residential mobility, and urban poverty.

Milwaukee’s redeveloped river front provides a stark contrast to the city’s North Side.

The strength and quality of the MARS survey led to astonishing results, including, that 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters experienced at least one forced move within the two years prior to the survey (Evicted, p. 330).

MARS and its groundbreaking data formed the backbone for Evicted and provided for the development of a renewed discussion on housing prices, urban poverty, and much more within Wisconsin. However, MARS, too, has had a more national reach: the study’s techniques are set to be integrated into HUD’s national American Housing Survey starting in 2017.

As Desmond shares in a recent article from FiveThirtyEight, a site dedicated to hard numbers and statistical analysis on topics ranging from sports to elections, this is a major step forward for understanding eviction, poverty, housing costs, and displacement on a national level. With the integration of MARS into the HUD survey, researchers and policymakers will be able to more accurately understand the realities of poverty and eviction across the country, thus prompting a more holistic discussion of housing issues and spurring “policymakers to take [these issues] seriously” Andrew Flowers, FiveThirtyEight. As a result, much needed improvements to housing and housing costs will hopefully be made.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Program