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American Housing Survey (AHS)

While many people are familiar with the United States Census, which is taken every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, there are actually over 100 different surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. In this educational series, SBB Research Group summarizes key information from about these lesser-known—but highly important—surveys.

What is the American Housing Survey (AHS)?

The American Housing Survey (AHS) is a housing unit survey conducted every other year in odd-numbered years. The survey is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is known to be the most thorough national housing survey in the U.S. for over 45 years.

Information the survey collects includes some of the following questions:

  • The physical condition of homes and neighborhoods

  • Cost of financing and maintenance of homes

  • Characteristics of individuals residing in homes

Based on the answers from the above questions, the survey then aims to provide answers on the overall quality and cost of housing throughout the United States and its major cities. Stakeholders and community decision-makers then utilize the data collected to determine the future housing needs of their respective communities. Decisions take into consideration how to provide opportunities for individuals across all income levels, ages, and ethnic groups.

How AHS Data is Used

Government agencies across all levels—federal, state, and local—use the data collected to help determine housing policies and housing laws appropriate for their respective areas. Policy and budget analysts along with program managers use the data to help monitor supply and demand to understand the overall housing needs of both homeowners and renters across the country. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the data to provide a “Worst Case Needs” report to Congress, which is used to improve housing programs and help build effective programs geared towards specific groups including low-income families, first-time homebuyers, and the elderly population.

Survey Eligibility

Housing units are defined by the AHS as any house, apartment, townhome, mobile home, individual room, group of rooms, or location that is occupied as separate living arrangements. “Separate living quarters” is further broken down as areas in which occupants reside separate from other members and have direct access from the outside of the unit.

The survey breaks housing down into two categories of units:

  • Occupied Housing Units: a household must contain a member over the age of 16 who is capable of providing information on the unit as well as household composition details and income.

  • Vacant Housing Units: must have a landlord, owner, agent, or neighbor that can provide necessary details

  • Exceptions from this include tents, caves, boats, nonresidential structures, business storage, or units considered unfit for living

Frequency of Survey

The AHS survey is conducted from May through September every other year in odd-numbered years. Data is generally released to the public around 12 months after it has been collected.

General Topics in the Survey

Below is a list of topics the survey typically collects responses on:

  • Size and makeup of housing inventory

  • Owners versus renters

  • Total vacancies

  • The physical condition of housing

  • Characteristics of occupants

  • Mortgage and general housing costs

  • Home improvements

  • Home value

  • Neighborhood quality

  • Evictions

  • Work and commuter details

  • Delinquent payments

Privacy of Information Collected

The data collected from the AHS is required to remain confidential. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by federal law to keep answers private and confidential as to not relay personal information in any way that could allow for households to be identified.


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