Since the days of Catherine Bauer Wurster, housing has been a central focus of the College of Environmental Design. Despite major strides in housing policy—including the landmark Housing Act of 1937, which Bauer herself co-authored—many Americans face severe housing challenges. Seven years after the beginning of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they are confronting a dramatically different housing landscape.
While some are experiencing the benefits of the recovery, an overwhelming proportion of families are feeling unprecedented stress on their ability to access and remain in safe, affordable, and sustainable homes and communities. Shifting social and demographic trends are also changing what types of housing is needed, and where. At the same time, concerns over climate change and environmental sustainability are prompting new patterns of urban development and land use. It is a time of both urgency and opportunity, demanding that we innovate and change to tackle the complexity of housing challenges in the twenty-first century.
After five years as Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration, it is a privilege to return to California and continue to tackle these issues as a faculty member in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. I am delighted to be entering my second semester as the I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor in Affordable Housing and Urban Policy in the Department of City and Regional Planning and my first semester as Faculty Director of the recently launched Terner Center for Housing Innovation.
At the Terner Center, our mission is to formulate bold strategies to house families from all walks of life in vibrant, sustainable, and affordable homes and communities. The work of the Terner Center is intentionally situated at the intersection of economic growth, equity, environmental sustainability and housing affordability for all families. We recognize this is a tall order!
To pursue our mission, the Center is taking on a rigorous applied research agenda to identify and frame salient issues in housing, support the development and advancement of innovative solutions to these issues, and impact the practice and capacity of current and future public and private sector leaders. Our initial research projects are focused on: 1) making the housing finance system work for more families with an emphasis on new financial tools and products that could be adopted in both the private and public sector; 2) the intersection of land use, housing (including fair housing and opportunity) and climate change policy; 3) access to credit and alternative paths to homeownership; 4) non-traditional housing development that bends the cost curve and uses technology and other innovations to improve affordability for families of all incomes; and 5) improving data and analytic tools for policymakers.
Ultimately, we’re placing practice first, and letting issues on the ground drive our research and innovations, not the other way around. Public policy is not sufficient on its own; these problems require both public and private sector innovation, and active implementation.
We are thrilled to have Faculty Research Advisor Carolina Reid, an assistant professor of City and Regional Planning, and Senior Fellow Jed Kolko on board as part of our small but experienced and talented team. We have also recently brought on several CED graduate students to support our research, communications, and engagement activities. Collectively, our team is poised to conduct rigorous analysis that leads to new answers, and foster communication and dialogue that can craft and advance new solutions.
In the coming months, the Terner Center will be forming an advisory board of thought leaders and practitioners to help shape our work moving forward. And we will bring in people from across campus, the Bay Area, the country, and the world on topics that need critical thought, problem-solving and fresh ideas.
At CED this semester, I am also pleased to be co-teaching a studio on affordable housing development with Chris Calott, Lalanne Chair and Associate Professor of Architecture. We have students from City and Regional Planning, Architecture, Law, and Public Policy, collaborating in a semester-long competition-style format to plan for a viable affordable housing development in the City of Richmond, CA. The energy and creativity of the students is infectious!
The next generation of leaders in housing face a complex set of challenges. Creative, bold thinking and strong leadership is going to be essential if communities are going to become affordable, sustainable and vibrant places of opportunity for current and future generations. It is an honor to be bringing my experience—both as a policymaker and practitioner—to the College of Environmental Design and UC Berkeley, to help train and support emerging leaders as they prepare to take on these challenges. I look forward to learning from them too!