By Matthew Kredell
USC Price Assistant Professor Jorge De la Roca began a new position this year as research director for the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, where he intends to expand the international focus and reach of the Center.
Created through an endowment gift by the Lusk family in the 1980s, the Lusk Center, housed within the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Marshall School of Business, seeks to advance real estate knowledge, inform business practice and address timely issues that affect the real estate industry, urban economy and public policy.
“I’m very excited about this new position,” De la Roca said. “I want to keep enhancing the quality of research we’re doing at USC Lusk. We have the opportunity to fund or seed these early projects on different types of housing and neighborhoods, not only in the L.A. area but other parts of the country and internationally.”
De la Roca grew up in Lima, Peru, one of South America’s largest cities. He’s always been drawn to big cities, wanting to understand how they grow and what made them successful. The allure of the big city can be seen in his career choices.
For his PhD studies, De la Roca attended the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies (CEMFI) in Madrid, where his dissertation, titled “Migration, Self-Selection, and Learning in Cities,” set the overarching focus of his research on the productivity advantages of big cities.
Knowing that people who spend at least part of their careers in big cities tend to accumulate more valuable labor market experience, De la Roca seeks to understand what big cities have that make people more productive. Last year, his dissertation won the August Lösch Prize, named for one of the founders of modern Regional Science. The prestigious international award out of Germany recognizes outstanding research in the field.
After completing his PhD, he headed to the two biggest cities in the United States, starting as a research fellow at the New York University Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, and then moving to Los Angeles for his first faculty position at USC Price.
“Jorge De la Roca, after only three years as an assistant professor, has established an international reputation as a scholar of the economics of agglomeration,” said Richard K. Green, director of the Lusk Center. “His elevation to research director will only enhance the visibility and reputation of the USC Lusk Center.”
The Lusk Center provides annual research grants to USC faculty, post-doctoral scholars and PhD students with a particular focus on seeding preliminary research that could be used to apply for larger grants. At the end of each year, De la Roca will lead a Lusk Research Awards Symposium in which all of the grantees present their research.
The Center also produces monthly research briefs during the academic year, publishes working papers and hosts prominent visiting scholars six-to-eight times per semester in the Lusk Research Seminar Series.
While he has yet to focus his research on Los Angeles, De la Roca attested that the biggest impact the Lusk Center has had on his research is through the networks that the center and the school have with local developers and policymakers.
“I get access to people making decisions who can provide valuable information and feedback on how regulations are affecting development options and how developers respond to changes in market demand,” De la Roca said.
In his own research, De la Roca is beginning to take that analysis on agglomeration advantages into developing countries, where there are fewer datasets and plans to examine whether the same productivity advantages in big cities exist.
In developing countries, big cities tend to have larger informal labor and housing markets, and he wants to better understand their impacts on people. He is starting in the country he knows best, Peru.
“Workers in these informal markets are less likely to get access to credit and training on the job,” De la Roca said. “There are detrimental effects of informality over the course of one’s career, so we need to understand these effects and how they vary across places to design better polices to facilitate transitions into formality.”
He sees an opportunity for the Lusk Center to make an impact in developing countries as the field of urban economics trends toward understanding real estate development in countries going through changes in urbanization such as China, India, and in parts of Africa.
“Top journals are very interested right now in trying to foster more publications on how cities and housing in general are moving in developing countries,” De la Roca said. “That’s an area to which I want to provide more attention. At Lusk, we can provide funding for people trying to do high quality research in these countries. We have post-docs and PhD students interested in studying housing markets not only in the U.S. but also abroad.”
He also wants to expand Lusk’s reach beyond the Price and Marshall schools, reaching more faculty working in areas such as education, social work, land use law and spatial sciences.
“I really expect to open doors university-wide to all the opportunities the Lusk Center provides, attracting these people to submit proposals and attend seminars,” De la Roca said.