The API Briefing: Two Great Housing APIs and Why HUD Needs to Build More

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Recently, a reader pointed out that some of the APIs I write about are not really APIs but just datasets. Technically that is true but it only takes some development effort to turn a into an API. That is why I also highlight interesting federal datasets along with federal APIs. There are many federal datasets that should be APIs but how do agencies choose which datasets to build APIs? One way is through citizens demanding that an API be created from a popular dataset. So, that is why I publicize promising datasets that should be APIs.

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Before we start, let me explain the difference between a dataset and an API. A dataset can be a downloadable file such as a comma-delimited file (CSV), an Excel spreadsheet, or an XML file. A dataset can even be delivered as a JSON (Javascript Object Notation) file. Essentially, a dataset is just a data dump with no way to select a subset of the data (see this example). Once a developer builds methods to query the dataset and deliver a selected slice of the dataset, then you have an API. APIs can be programmed to read data from a dataset and even write data to a dataset. More complex APIs can also execute functions on applications built around datasets.

A great example of many datasets that should be APIs are the nearly 200 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development datasets. There is an amazing amount of housing data from public housing inspections to fair housing cases to free geographical information system (GIS) mapping files. Many apps could be built from HUD’s data that can provide insights into community housing and provide numerous services for HUD costumers.

The two existing HUD APIs demonstrate why more need to be created. There is the “Housing Counselor Web Service” and the “Section 3 Business Locator Web Service.” The Housing Counselor locates counseling services for customers who need HUD counseling while the Section 3 business locator gives the location of businesses that provide services to low-income housing recipients.

Both of the HUD APIs have good documentation pages and a good information service that demonstrates the kind of information delivered by the APIs. The APIs can easily be incorporated with other APIs to create useful community housing services apps. Moreover, HUD has 200+ more potential APIs that could be extremely useful to state and local governments along with HUD customers and community development organizations._Each week in “The API Briefing,” I will showcase government APIs and the latest API news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how government APIs are transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about APIs, please contact me via email._ _Dr. William A. Brantley is the HRIS Branch Chief in the USDA’s Rural Development Human Resources Office. You can find out more about his non-federal work in this space at BillBrantley.com. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USDA and GSA._

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