August 2013

Updating the rent sample for the CPI Housing Survey


BLS field staff must find an eligible respondent for each address and then use tablet computers with CADC software for all data collection. During screening, the CADC software directs the field agents through a structured series of questions. They verify that the unit is renter-occupied. They further determine that the unit is the primary residence of the occupant, that the occupant is not a relative of the landlord, and that the unit is not institutional or public housing nor an assisted-living facility with activities of daily living provided to an occupant. These questions help the field agents determine if a selected address is eligible for the Housing Survey sample.

The field staff has a multimonth period to screen and initiate the units in a segment. Those units that the field staff is not able to screen (usually because the field agents fail to contact a respondent) go back out “on panel” for another screening attempt. This process should yield an expected number (usually five) of in-scope housing units in each segment that will be initiated into the Housing Survey sample.

Initiation and pricing

Once a selected address has been successfully screened, the CPI field agent immediately proceeds to initiate the housing unit into the Housing Survey sample. Initiation is the initial collection of rent data, which the field agent obtains by asking another structured series of questions. These data include the rent that is paid and specific housing services that are associated with the unit. These data are the basis for all calculations of rent change that will occur during the life of the housing unit in the Housing sample.

Once a unit is initiated, it will be priced on panel every 6 months. In addition, any in-scope units that are not successfully initiated go back on panel for another attempted initiation. A housing unit’s initiation generally does not occur in its on-panel month, so the housing unit must be priced on panel for two cycles to provide a 6-month interval before price changes can be used in the CPIs.

Collected data for each unit in the Housing Survey

During initiation and during each pricing, BLS collects

·         contract rent and rental period (monthly, bimonthly, weekly, or for a specified number of days);

·         utilities, facilities, and any other such items included in the rent;

·         any subsidies (e.g., Section 8) or reductions in the rent in exchange for services the tenant provided;

·         any extra charges included in the contract rent for optional items, such as parking;

·         the number of rooms, type of housing structure, and other physical characteristics; and

·         equipment used for air-conditioning and fuels used for heat and hot water.

In addition, to ensure that the unit remains in scope, BLS staff asks the screening questions every 2 years or when a change of occupant occurs.

Derived data for each unit in the Housing Survey

After housing data come in from the field, Housing Survey software computes or “derives” additional data elements for each unit. Derived data include review flags and the value of utilities and certain facilities used for quality adjustment. See appendix B for details on quality adjustments.

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About the Author

Frank Ptacek

Frank Ptacek is a supervisory economist and Chief of the Office of Prices and Living Conditions, Housing section.