Environmental Assessment Factors and Categories eGuide

Demographic Character Changes



The term “community” commonly refers to people living within a defined geographic area such as a neighborhood or a small town.

Communities can be highly diverse or highly homogeneous places. They can be strictly residential or characterized by mixed land uses. "Community" is often difficult to define because it carries physical, social, and psychological dimensions.

Central to the definition of community is both the presence of a residential population and a sense of common bond and collective identity which defines the community as distinct from other neighborhoods.

A pie chart showing that a community is created in three dimensions.
Physical: quality and type of housing units and commercial, public, and social services. Social: Demographic characteristics such as population size, density, age, ethnic and minority compositions, household size and compoisition, and income and employment characteristics. Psychological: Residents' perceived relationship with their surroundings, known as a sense of community.

In many cities, neighborhoods exist in which residents have strong ties to the area, each other, and the local stores, and institutions. Often, these are ethnic areas where residents share a common cultural and religious heritage. It is important that HUD-assisted activities not destroy the social networks and institutional ties in these areas and that they primarily benefit low- and moderate-income households.

Important Considerations

  1. What is/are the identifiable community(ies) within the sphere of likely impact of the proposed project? What are the factors which contribute to the character of the community(ies)?
  2. Does the proposed project contribute to reducing or significantly altering the racial, ethnic, or income segregation of the area’s housing?
  3. Will the proposed project result in physical barriers or difficult access which will isolate a particular neighborhood or population group, making access to local services, facilities, and institutions or other parts of the city more difficult?
  4. Could/does the project help address historical barriers present segregating the community?
  5. Does the proposed project at this site create a concentration of low-income or disadvantaged people in violation of HUD site and neighborhood standards?
  6. Do the environmental impacts of the proposed project affect low- and moderate-income or minority persons or communities more significantly than the general public?

Analysis Techniques

Use U.S. Census data to assess the factors that relate to demographics like age, race, sex, employment, education, and income. Use the data to see how the area has changed over time and how long it has had the demographic make-up it has today. Surveys of resident attitudes and the strength of formal and informal organizational ties can help measure the sense of community. When assessing demographic character changes, be aware of the social networks and institutions which characterize a neighborhood.

Analysis Techniques

Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations” (2/94) requires certain federal agencies, including HUD, to consider how federally assisted projects may have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations.

The Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad includes a section on environmental justice and speaks to how environmental and economic justice are key considerations for securing an equitable economic future.

Resources to Reference/Experts to Contact

  • Neighborhood planner at the local planning department
  • Director of local neighborhood organizations
  • Housing code compliance office/local health or building department
  • Local community action agencies
  • Local advocacy groups and/or organizations