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How Many Foreclosed or Homeless?

One of the biggest frustrations in trying to report about this housing crisis and recession is the lack of reliable numbers on two of its most dire outcomes: foreclosures and homelessness. There are numbers out there; they just aren't very reliable or, especially with regard to homelessness, up-to-date.

It's hard to count people as they fall off the map. Like most major media outlets, The Post reports foreclosure numbers from RealtyTrac each month, mostly because there's no other source that's better. But I don't know anyone who uses those numbers, including reputable economists, who isn't frustrated by the fact that the same home often gets counted more than once in their statistics. They count all the steps that lead to the actual foreclosure, from default notices to auction sales, so a single address that goes into foreclosure adds to the statistics several times. And it's important to remember that RealtyTrac is actually in the business of selling leads on foreclosed properties to investors. It's a bit like having IHOP report numbers about pancakes. Come and get 'em! We also report numbers from the Mortgage Bankers Association, which do a better job of clearing out the duplicates, but there's a lag because they're only available every three months.

Homelessness also is tough to count. When money troubles force someone to move from his own place to a friend's basement, that doesn't leave a statistical trace. If a family seeks cover at a shelter, they may eventually get counted by a charity or government agency, but those statistics might be reported a year or even more after the fact. If they move into their minivan, that probably won't show up at all.

Your real-time observations and reports can be a terrific help as we try to tell these stories. They're welcome as comments on this blog, or, if you know of something that warrants a deeper look, send me an email at razzie@washpost.com.


By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 16, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Foreclosure , The economy  
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Comments

The issues with lack of good data are not at all new. In addition to the obvious issues related to funding data collection, you might consider doing a story on the Paperwork Reduction Act and its unintended effects on data collection and, by extension, evidence based decision making.

Posted by: burkemic99 | March 16, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

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