Doing Housing Vulnerability Analysis

As housing professionals, we rely on several tools to analyze and advocate for housing. We regularly assess housing needs by examining the relationship between housing costs and resident incomes, or housing unit availability and jobs. We also assess building stock vulnerability to disaster, either by looking at the structure itself or its location relative to climate risks. But in this era of high rates of displacement, we need tools to assess the strength of the legal relationship between people and their dwelling: their housing tenure.

Housing Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) focuses on the protection and preservation of housing arrangements. This approach develops our understanding of the wide diversity of ways in which people are housed in our communities. Housing tenures are far more diverse than people think, going beyond owning and renting. Tenures are not inherently good or bad, risky or protected. They are made that way by a mixture of regulation, political engagement, and place-based vulnerabilities. If our goal is to keep people housed, we need clarity on the diversity of tenures within our communities, the forces which threaten to disrupt each, and on the extent to which each is protected. By understanding the diversity and security of tenures within our communities, we can better identify and focus strategies which protect and preserve housing. Read more about housing tenure.

We envision HVA as a four-step process. The first three steps produce a set of findings, and the final step turns those findings into recommendations. You can see an example of a pilot version of HVA in our Oakland Pilot Study. As the development of HVA is a work in progress, we welcome any ideas, feedback, or comments, either on the basics of HVA or the Oakland study.

HVA in brief (Click on each step for more details on how to do it)

Step 1: Catalog all known tenures in the study area.

Step 2: Quantify how many people are living in each tenure

Step 3: Analyze the vulnerability of each tenure according to as many of the following criteria as possible:

  • Legal/policy: To what degree is any given tenure protected by or at risk from any legal or policy measures currently in place, or that help them in case of displacement?
  • Advocacy: To what degree is any given tenure protected by strong political advocacy organizations, accessible legal assistance and know-your-rights public education?
  • Financial risks: To what degree is any given tenure at risk of or protected from displacement because of issues connected to income, finance, insurance, or taxation? (Not included in the Oakland study)
  • Environmental and geographic risks: To what degree is any
    given tenure at risk of or protected from permanent displacement because of natural disaster or redevelopment? (Not included in the Oakland study)
  • Community risks: To what degree are more risky or secure tenures racialized, or based on class, age, disability, LGBTQ or any other social status? To what degree does membership in a social group expose you to increased risk in an otherwise secure tenure, either through discrimination or another mechanism? (Not included in the Oakland study)

Steps 1, 2 and 3 will produce a detailed set of findings about the protective fabric of housing policy and politics in any jurisdiction. On its own it will not produce a set of recommendations. Thus:

Step 4: Analyze and report findings through dialogue with policymakers and local housing advocates to produce a set of clear recommendations, next steps and long-term actions.


Frequently Asked Questions


Where can you do HVA? Does it have to be a big city?

HVA can be done at any scale, from a neighborhood to a nation.

One challenge is data. A neighborhood study would not be able to use many of the data sources available at larger scales, and would require more significant field work and data gathering. It will be more straightforward from a data perspective for larger jurisdictions, or for counties, where the data is most available. Click here for general guidance on counting tenures and quantifying them, and here for how we did both in Oakland.

For larger jurisdictions (states, countries, etc.) that have major differences in laws and services between cities and regions, the analysis side of HVA becomes more complex. Protections for renters, for example, vary widely in a state like California, so a statewide analysis would be lengthy. Statewide analyses would require more resources to do properly, but we are actively working to develop one in the near future as a new pilot.

HVA is a work in progress. We are actively seeking new partners who want to develop an analysis for their neighborhood, city, county, region or state. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Who can do HVA? Do you need local government support?

Anyone with access to data and housing practitioners can prepare an HVA. Our Oakland Pilot Study was developed on a shoestring budget by a (very capable) Master’s student in collaboration with some academics, a local community land trust and local housing advocates. Non-governmental organizations and academic institutes with more resources can certainly develop even more robust HVA’s without government support.

Ideally, HVA in the future becomes a collaborative effort with local, county, regional or state governments, depending on the scale of analysis. Click here for more on our long-term vision for HVA, or to get involved!

Is homelessness really a housing tenure? Aren’t homeless people by definition people without tenure?

Click here for a longer discussion of housing tenure and homelessness. In short, most homeless people have some sort of space or place they call home, whether it is a short-term rental, a couch in someone’s home, a place under an overpass, a car or van or boat, a squat, etc. HVA is rooted in the need to understand the differences between these, and recognize that most people have some claim to a space or place, even if it is informal, illegal or unrecognized. Effective and humane housing policy needs to start from this recognition that homelessness can be a form of housing, and that not all forms of homelessness are the same, as with other tenures.

Why don’t we simply build more homes, or preserve existing affordability, to resolve our housing challenges?

Our motivation for conducting HVA in part emerges from a need to break down siloed thinking in housing assessment and advocacy strategies. The mantra of protection, preservation, and production — the 3 P’s — has become an important framework within the California context. However, there is often a tendency to see each of the P’s on their own, rather than in relationship. As a result, silos develop within the housing community, occupants within many housing tenures are left behind, and more holistic and equitable housing strategies that keep people housed remain unrealized. Read more about how and why we’re thinking about housing tenure.

What is the background behind HVA? Who is involved?

You can read more about the origins of HVA and our team here.