This month we are highlighting Anne Calef, a research fellow at Boston Indicators, where her
work focuses on the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on the Greater Boston region. Anne
explains the work of the Covid Community Data Lab.
BARI: Can you start just by telling me a little bit about the COVID Community Lab and
Anne: The COVID Community Data Lab (CCDL) is a partnership with the Center for Housing
Data at the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and Boston Indicators, with contributions
from the UMass Donohue Institute. It began in early May intending to provide the best, creative
data sources to understand the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on Greater Boston and help
shape an inclusive recovery.
CCDL consists of two parts, a series of research briefs written by the Boston Indicators or MHP
teams and a repository of charts and graphs analyzing real-time data sources. Our research
covers a broad range of topics, including an equity analysis of confirmed COVID-19 cases,
housing, economic impacts, demand for social assistance, and mobility patterns.
BARI: Were you surprised at any of the data revealed to you? What story does the data
Anne: Since May, there have been many things that surprised us. When we first disaggregated
the MBTA data, it was interesting to see the stark difference between the Blue Line and other
subway lines. It was also surprising to see the distinction between population density and
crowding in UMass Donohue Institute’s analysis of COVID-19 positive cases.
More recently, it was interesting to see how median rent has decreased in inner core
neighborhoods while increasing in lower-cost markets. Our colleague Tom Hopper at MHP
wrote about this trend in a recent brief.
Together, the data tells a story of a region hit hard by the pandemic with some communities
bearing a heavier burden than others. Recovery has slowed in the fall and we continue to see
high demand for critical social services (unemployment insurance, food assistance).
BARI: How has the response been to the COVID Community Lab’s work so far? How do
you hope the public engages with it moving forward?
Anne: We’ve been fortunate to have a positive response to the COVID Community Data Lab so
far and hope to continue to grow the project through partnerships with other organizations
serving the Greater Boston area. Some of our more popular briefs have been a collaboration with
Project Bread and Children’s HealthWatch on food insecurity during the pandemic as well as
MHP Center for Housing Data’s brief on rental market trends.
BARI: Are there any recommendations for policymakers based on this research?
Anne: One broad theme worth noting is the importance of expanded social assistance programs.
Early on, we observed the $1200 stimulus checks help people stay in their homes. After the
CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provision, which automatically added
$600 per week to unemployment benefits, ended in July there was a spike in applications for
food assistance programs (primarily SNAP). Pandemic-EBT and expansions to SNAP have been
critical as food insecurity grows but, like unemployment insurance, they do not reach everyone.
We would urge policymakers to strengthen social assistance programs and eliminate barriers to
participation. Finally, after the eviction moratorium ended in mid-October, we saw a spike in 211\
calls for housing-related assistance, indicating growing anxiety and need across the state. CCDL
is monitoring eviction case filings as they come in, but the policymakers must help all
individuals stay in their homes.
BARI: What are some upcoming projects?
Anne: This week we are releasing a brief on bus ridership trends in the area, focusing specifically
on the fifteen MBTA routes with the highest level of sustained ridership (weekday ridership in
2020 as a percent of weekday ridership in 2019). Later in November, we hope to release a new
housing brief focusing on housing stability as well as a brief on the impact of COVID19 on arts
organizations. In early 2021, we are planning a larger project on how housing and mobility
patterns have shifted since the pandemic began.