Housing Opportunity 2019 Explores Affordable Housing Crisis

All aspects of the nation’s affordable housing crisis were evaluated at Housing Opportunity 2019, a thought- provoking conference hosted by ULI’s Terwilliger Center for Housing. The two-day event, held in February 2019 in Newport Beach, California, included discussions on the following: infusing healthy building into lower-cost housing; addressing homelessness; the debate over rent control; employers as housing providers; housing for seniors; making “green” affordable housing cost-effective; including affordable housing in master-planned communities; addressing community opposition to affordable housing; the performance of affordable housing as an asset class; affordable housing in opportunity zones; and the potential of technology to lower housing construction costs.

The consensus of the panelists: The shortage of affordable housing—and efforts to remove obstacles to build more of it—represent the biggest opportunity for the industry in the coming years. While supply continues to fall far short of demand, the housing imbalance and the increasingly dire need for affordable homes in many areas will result in new business models in the years ahead. With the federal government in a state of perpetual political standoff, “the real action has moved to the state and local level,” noted ULI Terwilliger Center Founder and Chairman J. Ronald Terwilliger.

In a keynote address during a free-flowing luncheon discussion, former U.S. Congressman Rick Lazio pointed out that the private sector is often missing from housing solutions. “We don’t engage business as much as we should,” he said. An increasing number of local programs and initiatives are emerging to help spark more housing, including land banks, land trusts, and development around transit corridors, he noted. However, Lazio added, ultimately the federal government will have to get involved to make sweeping changes. “The federal level is the one way to really scale solutions, and that’s one of the big political challenges,” he said.

The rise of employer-assisted housing was the focus of a discussion on efforts by mammoth technology firms such as Facebook and Microsoft as well as smaller companies addressing a specific need such as housing for seasonal workers. Panelists said that investing in affordable housing initiatives represents a form of enlightened self-interest, in terms of being able to attract and retain a sufficient number of workers to gain a competitive edge.

The 2019 housing conference was the fifth annual event hosted by the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing to raise awareness of housing affordability as a pervasive urban challenge and to explore other housing issues, and to serve as a platform for sharing solutions that can be replicated in communities throughout the United States. The 2020 conference will be held February 24–26 in Miami.

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