Fighting poverty with facts
Case researchers use SAS® to understand poverty better and help policy makers, not-for-profits battle its effects
The researchers at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Applied Sciences Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development have a critical mission: understanding the root causes of poverty in northeastern Ohio. The group draws on statistics to unearth links and explain issues to policy makers and to not-for-profit groups trying to ameliorate poverty's effects.
"By bringing information about poverty into the same picture as information about infant mortality, drug trafficking, crime, juvenile delinquency and housing deterioration, you begin to get people to think comprehensively about the problem and understand that poverty isn't just about income," explains Dr. Claudia Coulton, the Lillian F. Harris Professor at the Mandel School of Applied Sciences and Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development .
For the past 14 years, the Center has relied on SAS to help explore those connections. Now, with SAS' help, the Center is supplementing the amount of information available to the community and researchers, including adding enhanced mapping capabilities and a real-time element to the data.
Making an impact on the community
All of the data for these initiatives was offered through a portal that did not require specific SAS programming knowledge. And while nearly 100 researchers and community members used this portal each month, it did have limitations. "People could choose only one data set. For instance, they could choose poverty, but they couldn't choose poverty and crime," explains Coulton. The Center gets information from 12 data sources, including local courts, police reports, census data and tax rolls.
The Center is also using SAS to help community development corporations. The not-for-profit groups play an integral role in revitalizing blighted areas, and northeast Ohio has many active corporations. But to be effective, these organizations need data for individual properties and they need it as soon as it is posted. So if a tax delinquency comes up, the corporation can act quickly to buy the property. The current system is not set up to display information on individual properties or load data frequently enough.
Taking the portal to the next level
The Center is using a combination of SAS solutions: SAS®9 for the statistical analysis; SAS/IntrNet to distribute the information; SAS/ACCESS, which helps users convert SAS to Excel spreadsheets; SAS AppDev Studio for stand-alone development; and SAS OLAP Server, a multidimensional data store that provides quick access to presummarized data that is generated from vast amounts of detailed data.
Providing information in real time
"In the past, it was very rigid; all you could get was the percentage of properties in the census tract that were tax delinquent or the rate of violent crimes in the census tract or the median housing values in the census tract," Coulton says. Gathering the housing information, in particular, had been very tedious since the information must be obtained from several different county offices. The value of a home is found at one office, recent sales at another and tax delinquency at still another. "But now, you can actually zoom into the value of a particular property or you can draw your own boundaries and say what the values of the properties within this block are," Coulton said.
"The added information should help the corporations not only make sound decisions about where to invest their money but also help document the impact they are having in the neighborhoods where they are already working", said Sharon Milligan, Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Center. "This is something that the community development field needs not just here but around the country."
Finding the positive in low-income neighborhoods
The group has been impressed with the team that SAS assigned to get the portal up and running. There was a lot done in a short period of time, and brought a lot of functionality that they didn't have, because the data is complicating. The work on the portal has given Coulton new ideas of what she might do next. "We'd like to do other portal-type projects. We've talked to people in the field of nonprofit management, and they have a big interest in doing something similar for nonprofit organizations."
For now, Coulton's group will concentrate on optimizing this portal. "SAS got us out of a place where we were just floundering," she concludes.
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Case Western Reserve University
Develop an advanced portal that combines mapping and real-time data loads to analyze multiple sets of data simultaneously
SAS provides advanced calculations in a fraction of the time required.
“ The new SAS portal and tools are going to allow us to help people map the problems and the assets. ”
Dr. Claudia Coulton
Co-Director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development