The Social Determinants of Public Housing Performance





University of Baltimore. College of Public Affairs


University of Baltimore. Doctor of Public Administration

Citation of Original Publication



For the past twenty years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has used the Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) to measure the performance of local public housing agencies in their implementation of the public housing program. Among the more than 3,500 public housing agencies across the country that operate public housing, there is wide variation in performance scores, with some agencies consistently being rated as “High Performers” and others regularly designated as “Troubled.” However, the factors that can identify and help distinguish the strong from the weak performers remains unclear. This study examines PHAS through a social equity lens, examining the history of the performance measurement system’s development and its relationship to the residents. Socially constructed as hotbeds of crime and despair, public housing and those who reside in it often bear a negative stigma that influences the policymaking process. This research digs into that stigma and measures the linkages between performance incentives, race, poverty, crime, politics and public housing authorities’ PHAS scores to uncover the social determinants of performance. While there is no single smoking gun to explain variations in performance scores, the research finds that, despite two decades of use as the standard performance measurement system of the public housing program, there is still little understanding of public housing’s effectiveness in achieving socially equitable outcomes.