Informing policy debate and decisionmaking in our home city and region

Our Issues

Today, the District of Columbia ranks among the nation’s most prosperous and vibrant cities. Jobs and population are on the rise, the housing market is booming, long-distressed neighborhoods are experiencing a renaissance, and the city’s diverse population fuels a lively cultural and entertainment scene. The turnaround in DC’s fortunes over less than a decade and a half is remarkable.

But the city’s prosperity and growth have not reached every neighborhood or benefited all its residents. Poverty, hardship, and isolation persist—and in some cases may have worsened. Some long-time residents feel excluded from the new economic, social, and cultural opportunities springing up around them. Some neighborhoods remain severely distressed, dangerous, and disinvested. And the disparities between rich and poor are widening.

Many of DC’s civic and political leaders are seeking to spread the benefits of prosperity more broadly and equitably. They are exploring strategies for reducing unemployment, preserving affordable housing, improving educational success, and further reducing crime and violence. To do so, they need reliable evidence and independent analysis to support fruitful debate and effective policymaking.

Our Approach

The Urban Institute has built a multidisciplinary program of evidence and policy analysis focused on the District of Columbia and its region. This work draws from the breadth of Urban’s substantive expertise, including child well-being, education reform, workforce development, foreclosure mitigation, affordable housing, crime prevention, performance management and nonprofit management, the social safety net, and health care. We provide current and reliable data at multiple geographic levels (including city, ward, and neighborhood) to inform the decisions of nonprofits and city agencies. 

This work is supported and informed by NeighborhoodInfo DC, our civic engagement tool and online resource of indicators for the city and its neighborhoods. NeighborhoodInfo DC assembles the most current available data from a broad array of local and national sources and makes it easily accessible to citizens, community groups, media, and policymakers. For example, from the start of the national foreclosure crisis, Urban has assembled detailed, real-time information about the DC households and neighborhoods affected. We then share this data with public and nonprofit partners, enabling them to target their efforts to reduce negative impacts and help more families stay in their homes.

Our Impact

We have been actively engaged in the civic and policy challenges of our home city, providing analysis and assistance to the DC government and to local service providers and community organizations. For example, when public school officials were making decisions about closing elementary schools and redefining enrollment boundaries, Urban helped develop and apply criteria for deciding which schools to close and analyzed potential effects on travel distances for students and enrollment by school. Urban also recently developed a model bullying prevention policy for youth-serving agencies in the city, in partnership with the 42 members of the District of Columbia Mayor's Bullying Prevention Task Force and Office of Human Rights. And, in collaboration with the World Bank Group, Urban is building the performance measurement capacity of Washington, DC-area nonprofits through Measure4Change, a multiyear initiative that provides grant support and one-on-one technical assistance for grantees and facilitates a regional community of practice.