Urban America Just Got A Trove Of New Real Estate Data

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has published an interactive map that shows the ins and out of American land use.
By Scott Beyer | Dec 02, 2017 |
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By Scott Beyer | Dec 02, 2017 |
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This map showing median rents throughout metro Pittsburgh is one of thousands now accessible thanks to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Christmas has come early in 2017. That is the case, at least, for those who like real estate and land-use data, which could include homebuilders and homebuyers, policy analysts, reporters, or anyone generally interested in city issues.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge-based urban affairs think tank, recently published, in collaboration with PolicyMap.com, an interactive map called the Place Database. It provides numerous data categories to be applied over a map of the entire U.S. Users can select a category, and then zoom in, to draw comparisons by state, metro, county, city, or in some cases, even down to the land parcel (this video provides a tutorial on how to use the map).

Among the data points are median home values, property tax rates, vacancy rates, zoning codes, school district spending, and much more. It has environmental data regarding the elevations, critical habitats and brownfield sites in different areas. It has policy-oriented data, too, such as the fiscal distress, or federal transportation spending received, by given cities. The map really is a wonk's dream come true, especially if they've ever spent time searching the disorganized and confusing Census Bureau website.

The map's housing data is what interested me most, namely certain nuances. For example, aggregate housing costs, as measured here by percentage of household income spent on housing, is far higher in cities than rural areas - no surprise there. But when counting aggregate housing + transportation costs, the roles reverse, since rural America is more auto-dependent, meaning people are likelier to shoulder the burden of buying and maintaining cars. Of course, the income gap between urban and rural America also factors in here.

Building age was another interesting data point. Homes in the Northeast and Midwest were far older, on average, than homes in the Sunbelt. In New York City proper, 51% of the housing units were built before 1950. In Phoenix, only 2.4% of homes were built before then, and nationwide the rate is only 18.4%. This is largely explained from New York City developing during an earlier era, but is exacerbated by the city's unwillingness to build new housing, especially compared to pro-development Phoenix.

Other findings from the map? The nation's "prime farmland" is overwhelmingly centered in a few heartland states, including Kansas and Nebraska; the counties with the most at-risk flood zones were along the coasts of Louisiana, Florida, and North Carolina; and various major cities, most of them fiscally-challenged, get over 10% federal aid as a percentage of general revenue, including Oakland, Chicago and New Orleans.

The most interesting thing about the Place Database map is the "match" function, where users can combine their 3 favorite data points to determine what would be their ideal location. The ones I selected were areas with median home values below $200,000, low property taxes, and high per capita incomes. Interestingly, the rural parts of west Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas—sitting roughly along Tornado Alley—most fit these descriptions. But the strengths and weaknesses of different cities varied, because the data points on this map were manifold.

[This article was originally published by Forbes.]

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