Web site provides wealth of housing data

By Carolyn Said, E-mail Carolyn Said at csaid@sfchronicle.com

Want to know the distribution of household incomes in your neighborhood? How about the percentage of homes that were refinanced a couple of years ago?

A new free online resource offers a way to find such answers and see them graphically displayed on a map, or on reports, charts and tables. PolicyMap.com, which is available now, is sponsored by The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia nonprofit group that seeks to stimulate economic growth for low- and moderate-income families. It offers a wealth of data about housing, mortgages, income and demographics, along with an array of tools to analyze the information. The data cover the entire nation, but are available down to fine-tuned local levels, such as census tracts.

“It was birthed out of our policy work,” said Maggie McCullough, director of PolicyMap. The Reinvestment Fund realized that many of the government agencies, nonprofits and financing sources it works with wanted a map-based way to view data about the areas where they were making investments in housing and other projects, she said. It decided to create PolicyMap to improve access to housing and market data.

PolicyMap draws information from a variety of public and private sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, FBI, IRS and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. While the data from public sources are available free, some data, such as demographic information PolicyMap purchased from data provider Claritas, are available only with a paid subscription, which starts at $200 a month. Subscribers also have access to more advanced features in generating reports and can upload their own data for analysis. McCullough said about 80 percent of the information on the site is free.

Among the 4,000 data indicators included are home sales, values and projections; neighborhood conditions such as crime, vacant homes and household turnover; mortgage origination information; all kinds of information about incomes (per capita, family, household, area median); demographics such as race, age, household type and size; homeownership and rent rates; and jobs information.

The information is not totally up-to-the minute, however. Most of the data providers update information annually, or quarterly at best, so the most recent version of much of the data is for 2006. PolicyMap said it will update data in sync with the providers’ schedules.

The Web site is at www.policymap.com.

This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday May 23, 2008