What is the Story and What are the Needs of My Community?
Community Engagement Methods for Understanding Local Needs
Consistent and intentional community engagement offers you an opportunity to collect stories, qualitative data, and lived experiences related to how residents experience several issues in your community. While this tool provides a variety of data resources that include quantitative data, that data is stronger when it is paired with qualitative data, and should not replace the value and necessity of information and expertise gathered from local voices.
Below, we have broken down a few common methods that are used to collect community input and to encourage community members to share their concerns and ideas with entities that aim to create equitable and affirming communities with them. These methods should be used in tandem with quantitative data to help tell a reflective story of community need and experience.
Surveys can take the form of online questionnaires, in-person question-and-answer sessions with individuals, and even phone calls. This method allows you to collect multiple, small pieces of information about community perspectives, opinions, or experiences on a topic. They typically have multiple choice questions, but may also include a few short answer questions to allow for greater explanation of an answer.
Public and Community Meetings
Public and community meetings may be part of a local political process (such as Community Board meetings) or meetings held by local community organizations and civic groups. Testimony and discussion held at these meetings can be enlightening as they include real thoughts and concerns that residents have about local issues that may not be reflected in quantitative data or brief surveys.
Focus groups are meetings that are intentionally gathered to discuss a specific topic and typically includes a group of people who were selected to reflect similar or a variety of perspectives. Focus groups can be helpful in getting more targeted testimony and discussion on key issues and may inform how you choose to introduce or discuss those issues in larger public forums to encourage larger conversation.
Events and Engagement in Public Spaces
Public engagement methods such as holding local events or setting up tables in public spaces provide more informal methods of learning about community needs, interests, and concerns because it involves talking to people as they are going about their normal day. In many instances, these methods can have more fun or entertaining components to them which encourage more people to attend and allow for conversation on positive assets that people see within the community. These methods can extend to include public art engagement, games, and teach-ins, as well.
Meetings with Community-Based Organizations and Local Groups
Many of the methods above are made more successful when they are done in tandem with local organizations and groups who regularly work with residents. Additionally, it can be helpful to start your process of assessing community needs by meeting with representatives from these groups as they can help frame the broader issues that they have seen residents face. Furthermore, you can get a sense of what social or political factors impact the work that these groups do with residents, which itself gets to a larger community need.
Discussions by Specific Community Group or Identity
Any of the methods above can be tailored to specific identity groups or subsections of the community so you can get an idea of how those particular groups experience a local issue. Holding space for these forms of discussion is important because some residents may not feel safe to speak openly about their experiences when around residents of different identity groups or personal experiences. These spaces can be helpful in speaking to people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, youth, elders, people with disabilities, and any other resident groups that experience social or economic marginalization in the community.
What Data Adds to the Story of My Community? – Determining Existing Conditions through Quantitative Data
There is a host of data available to help determine existing conditions in a community and where the greatest needs lie – for affordable housing, for accessible, good-paying jobs, for access to open space and transit – and how that may differ by demographic groups. Below we suggest a range of data you can consider in establishing community needs, with links to the resources where the data is available and how to easily access them.
Who Lives in My Community? – Demographics and Demographic Change
Demographic data, or data that relates to the social characteristics of people in a population, can be useful in understanding who lives in an area and how the people who live in that area are similar or different from each other. These data also allow us to see how specific characteristics that relate to economic stability vary between different groups of people. Looking at demographic data by race specifically, as explained below, helps us tell a more detailed story about racial inequity in an area. Comparing demographics from different time periods (known as “demographic change”) helps us tell a story of how a neighborhood’s population has changed. Below, you’ll find an overview of some major demographic data points that can help tell a more detailed story about your community and the tools where you can explore these data.
Where and How to Access These Data
Racial demographic data represents the race and ethnicity of people in the population of a given area. Many data sources base their racial and ethnic categories off of the categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, if a city agency or other group is collecting their own data separate from data taken from the Census, they may have different categories depending on what they want to know about the local population. It is important to look at racial demographic data because it tells us more about the racial diversity of an area and, when combined with other demographic data, it tells us about inequities of lived experience that occur for people based on their race and/or ethnicity.
Median Household Income & Income Breakdown and How They Relate to Area Median Income (AMI)
Data on Median Household Income tells us what the middle point of income for households is for a given area. This means half of the households in the area make more than this income and half of the households make less. To get a more detailed understanding of income, we can also look at Income Breakdowns of a community: what percentage of residents make a certain amount of money (eg. under $50,000 a year; under $75,000 a year). These data help us understand the distribution of wealth in an area and get a picture of an area’s economic status, informing what we can deem “affordable” to local residents when it comes to housing development and preservation.
It is important to note that Median Household Income is not the same as Area Median Income (AMI). AMI is a metric created yearly by the federal government to define income brackets for the metropolitan region, for the purposes of affordable housing development and financing. With 100% AMI as a benchmark, each household in a metropolitan area can be assigned an AMI level based on their income and household size. Affordable housing developments will then set their rents to serve these different AMI brackets.
- Extremely low-income (0-30% AMI)
- Very low-income (31-50% AMI)
- Low-income (51-80% AMI)
- Moderate-income (81-120% AMI)
- Middle-income (121-165% AMI)
- High-income (166% or higher AMI)
ANHD’s AMI Cheat Sheet breaks down how these AMI levels translate to household income and rents. It is important to note that over the last ten years, AMI has consistently been approximately $20,000 higher than New York City’s actual median income, and sometimes more. In 2022, 100% AMI for a three-person household in NYC was set at $120,100. But this is $26,457, or 28% higher, than New York City’s real household median income. See ANHD’s 2022 AMI Report for more on why this is the case.
Educational attainment data are data that represents the highest grade or level of education that individuals have completed in a given area. These data provide a breakdown that helps us understand the educational credentials that people have which typically impacts their future jobs and economic status.
Age data are data that breaks down the ages of people within the population. Age data are helpful to look at when thinking about if an area has a prevalence of key age-based demographic groups, such as children, young professionals, families, and seniors.
Foreign-Born Population and Limited English-Speaking Population
Foreign-born population data tells us how many members of a population were born outside of the United States. These data typically include people of all citizenship statuses — recent immigrants, refugees, workers of short-term visas, naturalized citizens, etc. Since many immigrant populations face the harm of being deported from the U.S. depending on their citizenship status, these data can be difficult to collect as people are hesitant to identify themselves to government agencies that collect the information.
Data on the limited English speaking population are connected to foreign-born population in that they tell us how many people speak English at a low proficiency level.
What Housing is Available in My Community and Who Gets to Access It? – Housing
Data on housing helps us to understand the reality of who is able to live in an area fairly, affordably, and comfortably. Housing disparities and the status of the housing market can determine who is able to stay within an area and who ends up being displaced. It has been made clear that race and socioeconomic status greatly determine the housing experiences of residents, especially when faced by housing markets that are constantly changing and becoming more expensive. Due to this, it is important to look at housing data broken down by race and discussed in relationship with other data to get a fuller housing story for an area. Below are some key housing data indicators to start learning about housing conditions.
Where and How to Access These Data
These data can be found in the Equitable Development Data Explorer (EDDE) (broken down by race), Population FactFinder, the Displacement Alert Project (DAP), the NYS Eviction Crisis Monitor, the NYC Worst Covid Evictors, Eviction Lab’s Eviction Tracking System, JustFix’s Who Owns What, ACRIS, and Where We Live NYC.
Housing Tenure (Renter Status and Owner Status)
Data on housing tenure are data that tell us how many people are renting their housing units and how many people own their housing units in an area. A higher percentage of renters typically means that local homeownership options are difficult to access, but other factors could also be in place to cause this.
Median Gross Rent
Median Gross Rent is the middle point of rent that is paid by renters in an area. This means that half of renters pay more than this number and half of renters pay less. This data point helps us understand the distribution and status of rent affordability in an area.
Rent Burden/Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income
Data that tells us the gross rent as a percentage of household income help us see a breakdown of how much of a household’s income is going towards rent payments. Rent burden is when a household is paying 30% or more of their income towards rent. Understanding rent as a percentage of household income and a household’s rent burden is helpful in determining how many housing units are affordable to local residents and how much of their income cannot go towards other essential needs.
Displacement risk is a category of data that relies on multiple data indicators to help describe how at risk an area is of having its most vulnerable populations displaced from the local housing market. The NYC Departments of City Planning and Housing Preservation & Development have developed a tool called the Equitable Development Data Explorer (EDDE) that includes an index and map for identifying the displacement risk of NYC neighborhoods (this tool is described in more detail in the Data Resources section of the toolkit).
The EDDE’s Displacement Risk Map includes population vulnerability, housing conditions, and market pressure as the central data categories that determine displacement risk. These measures help us understand who is most vulnerable due to race or socioeconomic status, how housing has changed in affordability or reduced in quality, and how the housing market has become more expensive and geared towards wealthier residents. As you explore different data and speak to members of your community, you may identify other factors that have influenced people’s displacement and that may add to the way that you tell the story of displacement.
The removal of individuals and families from their homes through evictions is extremely disruptive to the well-being, financial security, and safe shelter of many households in New York City. The City and state have enacted various protections for tenants across the last few years, but high numbers of eviction filings are continuously being submitted. Data on eviction is helpful in determining how many people and who specifically are being removed from housing opportunities and which communities face eviction more often than others.
Understanding who owns property in the City and what that ownership looks like is important in determining equity issues of who has access to ownership as well as discovering who are owner-residents versus landlords who live elsewhere. Ownership information also helps when community groups, leaders, and elected officials want to think about future plans for changes in the neighborhood and who to contact to discuss those plans as they relate to someone’s property. And lastly, this information can be helpful in identifying who is in most need of preserving whatever form of ownership they have, especially for households that are in income-restricted homeownership situations.
Who Works in My Community and What are Their Jobs? – Employment
Data on employment within an area tell us more about the economic opportunities that residents have through labor and informs our understanding of what work options are available near them. Employment data are closely tied to income and housing data as it helps us understand the occupations and work opportunities that produce a wage that is enough to afford living in an area.
Below are some employment data indicators that help in telling the story about where people work and what they earn in an area.
Where and How to Access These Data
Labor Force Population
Labor force population data are data that tell us how many people are working, not working, or eligible to work and currently seeking employment.
Occupations and Industries
Data on occupations and industries, as well as data on the wages earned within them, are helpful in seeing the breakdown of how and where people earn money within an area. These data may be informed by the historical economic opportunities that have been in an area (i.e., manufacturing jobs) or new job opportunities that have come about due to technological change (i.e., information sciences). There are oftentimes disparities between the wages earned within different occupations and industries, so it is important to look closely and compare these data to understand where the wealthiest and poorest members of an area are working and getting hired.
How Does Climate Change Impact My Community? – Climate Risk
Data on climate risk are inclusive of multiple environmental and public health-related factors that are increasingly important due to the effects of climate change and environmental injustices in the city and worldwide. These factors include but are not limited to: extreme heat, coastal and stormwater flooding, air pollution, short- and long-term health outcomes (i.e., asthma), and vehicular emissions.
New York City provides multiple tools to understand these various climate risk factors. As you look through them, below are some data indicators that help to understand your area’s climate change vulnerability and status. These data are particularly helpful to look at when broken down by race as it informs our understanding of who takes the brunt of environmental hardships in our communities.
Where and How to Access These Data
These data can be found in the NYC Flood Hazard Mapper, New York City Stormwater Flood Maps, Heat and Cooling Equity Maps, and Environment & Health Data Portal. All of these data resources provide an overall view of climate factors, impacts, and resources in NYC neighborhoods. The Equitable Development Data Explorer (EDDE) also has a data indicator on heat vulnerability that is viewable by community district.
Extreme Heat/Heat Vulnerability
Data on heat vulnerability are typically provided in map form and show us areas that measure at high to extreme levels of heat. These high heat measures can be caused by various factors, some of them including materials used in the built environment that absorb heat, emissions and other industrial production that impact air quality and ozone protection, and the presence (or lack thereof) of consistent tree coverage.
Coastal and Stormwater Flooding
Coastal and stormwater flooding data are data that show us present-day and projections of future flood threat due to being near bodies of water or due to increasingly extreme weather events. Typically shown on a map, these data inform our understanding of which areas are likely to be worst hit by near-term storm flooding or long-term coastal flooding. Flooding poses a major risk to housing and to other resources that impact the quality of life since it is both costly to recover from the damage of floods and to prepare your home for future flooding.
Environmental-Related Health Outcomes
Environmental factors such as extreme heat and air pollution can lead to environmental-related health outcomes that are important to understand in an area to see who is most impacted at a biological level by climate change and localized environmental injustices. Respiratory diseases, heart diseases, and cancers can develop through exposure to these factors.
What Does My Community Have Access to and How Does It Impact Our Wellbeing? – Quality of Life
Quality of life data are a broad set of data related to the experiences that people have in navigating their day-to-day lives in their local community. Quality of life includes some of the topics mentioned in the other sections like health outcomes and educational opportunity. It also expands to include information on what resources and services people can access near them and what that does to inform the ease of certain personal or communal activities.These data are important to consider when thinking about what a whole community must have aside from housing.
Below are some quality of life data indicators that offer an idea of what data to look for in this topic; they include data on access, impacts of the local context, and services.
Where and How to Access These Data
These data can be found in the Equitable Development Data Explorer (EDDE), Community District Profiles, Community Health Profiles, EpiQuery, Park Equity and COVID-19 Data from New York City Council, Spatial Equity NYC, and NYC Capital Planning Explorer. These data resources outline topics related to access to resources and opportunity as well as community wellbeing.
Access to Transit
Data on transit access provide a picture of what options community members have for getting around their area and how much that access helps them in pursuing certain activities, like work or educational opportunities. Transit typically includes public transportation options, but these data can expand to include personal modes of transportation such as bicycles and cars.
Access to Open Space
Data on open space access tells us how many public, open spaces are available for community members within a given area and what type of open space it comprises (eg, green parks as opposed to black-top playgrounds or ball-fields). Since open spaces serve as communal recreational and meeting areas, they serve an important civic function that brings people from different households together. Open space access informs how much people interact with natural green space, so it holds importance towards the individual health of community members as well.
Spatial Equity (Parks and Street Infrastructure)
Neighborhoods require access to parks and safe streets in addition to housing options to make all who live there more comfortable. By looking at issues of spatial equity, specifically access to parks and supportive street infrastructure, it is possible to determine if residents have local physical amenities that impact their overall health, their opportunities to share space outside the home with others, and their sense of a well-maintained physical environment. After the pandemic, there is a serious need to think about the outdoor spaces for recreation, learning, and healthy living as well as how much nature low-income communities and communities of color have access to compared to wealthier, white communities in the City.
While some health outcomes data include outcomes caused by environmental factors, much of the data can also include health conditions related to disability, neurodivergence, nutritional deficiencies, and drug use. These data also tell us about mortality rates, which tells us who within a community is at a higher risk of premature death and who has distinctly lower life expectancy than other groups.
Educational outcomes data helps us understand how well students are doing within the public K-12 school system. These data also help us understand when youth may deviate from the K-12 system, which informs support and services for young people outside of traditional education.
Public safety data are typically measures of people’s experience with harm, hospitalizations, traffic incidents, and violent occurrences within their area. These data tell us a story about what safety challenges a community faces, which informs services to support those who have been harmed and resources to prevent future harm from occurring.
Community facility data helps to visualize how the various needs of your community are being met through existing community facilities – eg. schools, libraries, health and community centers – and where there are gaps.
How Have Community Needs Been Met Thus Far?
- How much new housing has been constructed in the community over the last years?
- How much of that housing has been affordable and at what income levels?
- How much of that housing has been market-rate?
- How does the housing that’s been built compare with community income levels?
Where and How to Access These Data
The Equitable Development Data Explorer provides quick but effective data on housing production at the Community District level.
To look at more detailed geographies or a specific time period for housing production you can use these two datasets from DCP’s BYTES of the BIG APPLE – though this takes a bit more work and analysis.
- How much new density has the community been asked to take on through rezonings?
- How much new housing has been built within rezoning areas? How much of that was affordable and at what income levels? Did it target the need?
- What commitments for community benefits and investments have been made with previous rezonings? Have they been implemented?
Where and How to Access These Data
ZoLa is DCP’s Zoning and Land Use Map – it includes an overlay of approved and pending rezonings that can help you visualize where rezonings have taken place or are in the pipeline.
DCP’s BYTES of the BIG APPLE includes shapefiles from the City of all approved rezonings – these would allow you to do more detailed GIS analysis if that level of detail is of interest.
ZAP is DCP’s Zoning Application Portal – where you can see all pending (or approved) land use applications and their related documents.
The City’s Rezoning Commitment Tracker compiles the public commitments made during the deBlasio administration’s neighborhood rezonings and provides updates on their progress.
- Where and how are capital investments being made? Are they matching the need – including those prioritized by the Community Board?
Where and How to Access These Data
These data can be found in the NYC Capital Projects Dashboard, NYC Capital Planning Explorer, NYC Parks Capital Projects Dashboard, NYC DEP Green Infrastructure Program Map, MTA Projects, NYC DOT Projects and Initiatives, and the NYC Hazard Mitigations Actions Map.
Community Board Needs
Community District Profiles
Community District Profiles includes a host of data about each Community District in the City, including links to each Community Boards’ Statement of Community District Needs and Budget Requests
You can also round out your data collection by incorporating qualitative data from community members – either from testimony at public hearings and events, or stories you’ve heard directly or shared through community based organizations