HOUSSUB - Monthly or Annual Value?

A prior post on this forum had inquired whether the value for HOUSSUB is an averaged monthly amount per family, or whether it was the total annual value of rental subsidy per family. The response from @Ivan_Strahof was the following:

There is however a specific note in the 2015 ASEC documentation which mentions that FHOUSSUB is a monthly amount. I assume that this is a monthly average derived from the previous calendar year, but the documentation isn’t explicit on this.

It’s true that in the above-linked CPS technical documentation from 2015 that on page 8-14 of the Data Dictionary (page 69 of the document), there’s an abbreviated note that this is “monthly amount.” However, the fact that this is a monthly value is not noted anywhere else in the documentation, and this is seemingly one of the few assistance variables that are reported as an averaged monthly value.

Can someone confirm that HOUSSUB indeed captures an averaged monthly value and that users ought to multiply this value by 12 to get the annualized value of rental assistance?

While it’s true that a monthly value for HOUSSUB would contrast with other annually reported variables such as those for income, this doesn’t seem all that surprising since rents are commonly discussed in terms of monthly values. Contract rent in the ACS for instance is reported as a monthly amount. The fact that it is noted in the codebook is a strong indicator in this direction. My earlier statement was about being unsure of how this monthly amount was determined, but after some more digging I found that this 2010 census working paper describes the process in some detail. While the ASEC does not report either the actual rent or the market rent, the paper provides its own estimates of average housing subsidies. I was able to get close to the $2,591 value at the bottom of figure 1 in the paper after multiplying my estimates from the 2009 ASEC by 12, again suggesting that HOUSSUB is a monthly value.

An alternative measure that you may consider using is SPMCAPHOUS, which reports an annual rather than monthly amount for housing benefits. SPMCAPHOUS however calculates these benefits for Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) units, which can be larger than family units used for HOUSSUB and for the Official Poverty Measure. Using the 2013 ASEC, I was able to arrive at the $4,716 average housing benefit provided in table 1 of this 2015 census working paper, which also notes a monthly value of $393.

Thank you for highlighting this gap in the documentation. I will suggest making a note of this for the next release. If you’re looking for any additional documentation, I recommend reaching out to Census at dsd.cps@census.gov.

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Thanks @Ivan_Strahof !