Price Center summit explores innovative solutions to urban housing challenges

May 30, 2018

See more photos on Flickr » (All photos by Tom Queally)

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation hosted the 2018 Social Innovation Summit: Innovations in Urban Housing on April 27 to identify innovation solutions to the major housing challenges facing urban cities.

“Whether you’re talking about workforce housing, affordable housing or housing the homeless, it’s hard to talk about one without talking about the others,” said Gary Painter, USC Price School of Public Policy professor and director of the Center. “That’s really the genesis of today, that you can’t talk about just doing one thing for one part of the population because it is all connected, all interwoven.”

Painter noted that nearly 60 percent of Los Angeles city residents are rent-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. Even more troubling, 58,000 people in the county are homeless.

Jack H. Knott, Dean of the USC Price School of Public Policy, added in L.A. County, 75% of residents can’t afford to buy a median-priced home. Statewide, California’s overcrowding rate for all households is double the national average.

“All of us are here today because we recognize the urgency of the housing crisis which has befallen the Golden State,” Knott said. “These aren’t just faceless statistics. These numbers represent real people and real families who are facing very difficult struggles. Solving these complex problems requires not only ideas but also action. Today’s program is a great example of the ways the Price School strives to bring together both of these necessities.”

2018 Social Innovation Summit Welcome

Collaborative approach to problem solving

The Summit was organized into three panel discussions focused on innovations to house the workforce, innovations to increase the housing stock, and innovations to house the homeless. Attendees of the Summit were made active participants throughout the day, through live polling as well as three interactive activities designed to refine participants’ understanding of urgent housing problems and identify innovative short-term and long-term solutions.

Facilitated by Harder+Company Community Research, the first activity used empathy mapping to better understand the perspectives and needs of individuals impacted by issues of housing and homelessness. The second activity helped participants identify and describe the challenges that serve as barriers to affordable housing, workforce housing and homelessness, and the final activity asked participants to brainstorm innovative solutions to these challenges. At the end of the day, participants committed to trying, applying or learning about one new thing in the next few weeks.

To watch the full video of the “Housing the Workforce” panel, please click here »

Challenges & opportunities in workforce housing

Stephen D. Oliner of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Center on Housing Markets and Finance framed the opening panel by noting that much less of the rental stock being built today is affordable to workforce households. In recent years, fewer than 2,500 units with rents below $1,250 per month have been built annually in the Los Angeles metro area.

Joining Oliner on the panel were Robin Hughes from Adobe Communities, Mary Leslie from the Los Angeles Business Council, and Mohannad H. Mohanna from Highridge Costa Development Company.

Leslie presented results from a survey on which the Los Angeles Business Council collaborated with the Price Center for Social Innovation, identifying that more than half of all employers were unaware that housing-related assistance was a possible solution to ease the financial burden of their employees.

“It seems like educating employers is a huge opportunity. Many do not realize the programs available, and the ones that do don’t utilize them,” Leslie said.

Oliner and Mohanna offered the solution of producing more rental housing that is affordable to the workforce by building economically, making it a priority to control costs from the beginning of a project. Mohanna cited a number of ways to cut costs and make development more efficient, including building on grade and with reasonable density.

To watch the full video of the keynote, please click here »

Impact investing & housing innovation

Allison Clark, Associate Director of Impact Investing at the MacArthur Foundation, gave the lunchtime keynote focused on the power of investing in mission-driven organizations and what it takes to activate other investors to come into this space.

The MacArthur Foundation uses $6 billion in assets to provide grants for housing advocacy, researchers and think tanks innovating in affordable housing.

“This country is in an inflection point,” Clark said. “Do we continue to invest in things like housing using the same approaches or do we support new and innovative ways to create and preserve affordable housing that allows for the widest variety of households and individuals to live, work and thrive in our cities?”

Clark explained that the MacArthur strategy is to invest in organizations that will be long-term stewards for developing housing without considering it a mechanism for profit. She added that personal stories attract nonprofit dollars, and that research needs to be translated into stories that people can understand.

“As much as I’m a fan of financial metrics, we have to be able to ground what we’re talking about in stories of individual people, because that’s ultimately what people care about,” Clark said. “When you talk to individuals about why they invest in impact transactions, it’s value driven and something people feel they can connect to.”

To watch the full video of the “Innovations to Increase Affordable Housing Stock” panel, please click here »

Innovations to preserve, expand affordable housing

USC Price Professor Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate, moderated the second panel focused on innovations to preserve and expand affordable housing. The panel featured Ben Winter, director of housing and community development policy for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Jonathan Lawless of Fannie May and Tony Salazar of McCormack Baron Salazar. In his opening remarks, Green cited three reasons for the lack of affordable housing stock: that local land-use regimes make it harder to build, particularly in places people want to move, that banks are required to put aside a higher percentage of capital for a construction loan than they are a typical business loan, and that the housing crisis of a decade ago hindered the progress of move-up buyers.

Winter stated that there are more than 430,000 low-income Angeleno families stuck in severe housing conditions by paying more than half of their income on housing, or living in substandard or severely overcrowded conditions. Through Measure JJJ and Measure HHH, the city has new funding to support affordable housing strategies.

“Because we have these new local revenue streams, they’re much more flexible than the traditional affordable housing dollars we get from the federal government,” Winter said. “That means we can tinker, we can pilot, we can create, we can seed new initiatives, and if they’re successful then we can really scale them up as these new revenue streams continue to generate more money for affordable housing.”

To watch the full video of the “Innovations to House the Homeless” panel, please click here »

Innovations to house the homeless

In his framing remarks to open the summit’s final panel, Painter noted that the current homelessness crisis requires collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders, including the research community.

“Part of that work is to take the collective talents and energy from a group of researchers to bring not only the best practices and evidence base to policymakers but also to think about what we don’t know to close the gaps that we face in terms of housing the homeless,” Painter said.

Through the Homeless Policy Research Institute (HPRI), a new partnership between the Price Center for Social Innovation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles Home for Good Initiative, researchers will work to help end homelessness through increased collaboration and coordination. As part of HPRI, researchers share research with policymakers and community partners to inform on-the-ground work, conduct rapid-response policy research to inform policy and program design, and provide assistance in developing and coordinating requests for proposals for homelessness research.

Two of the USC Price Center for Social Innovation’s collaborators on HPRI participated in the panel: Chris Ko from the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Andrea Iloulian from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. They were joined by Kevin Murray of the Weingart Center and Dora Gallo from A Community of Friends.

Iloulian started the panel by noting that the solution to homelessness is more housing.

“When we’re talking about innovating for individuals experiencing homelessness, we’re not necessarily talking about redefining what the solution is,” Iloulian said. “We’re talking about the little pieces of the process that still could use some innovation around expediting development or innovating around long-term housing retention. It’s not that we’re starting from scratch and we’re trying to find the cure.”

Throughout the discussion, panelists spoke to the palpable tension between short-term interventions versus long-term approaches to house the homeless. While Murray agreed with the need to add housing, he argued that stakeholders are too focused on long-term interventions, at the expense of transitional housing.

“…everyone goes to housing first at the exclusion of everything else…,” said Murray, a former California state legislator.

Ko responded that there are still thousands of transitional housing units in the City of Los Angeles, and that there is likely more money from the general fund going toward shelters now than ever before.

Iloulian added that, because people enter homelessness for multiple reasons, it will take a holistic approach to solve the problem. She ended with a plea that a lot of the best innovations in housing development come from the for-profit real estate world, and encouraged the real estate community to identify strategies for cost savings.

A private sector perspective on housing innovations

One such real estate investor is Eddie Lorin, a sponsor of the Summit, who concluded the day by stressing the need to improve old housing stock in addition to developing new affordable housing. His firm, Strategic Realty Capital, is creating the first naturally occurring affordable housing property in Los Angeles by turning approximately 50 units in Koreatown and making half of them affordable.

“I’m an affordable housing preservationist looking to make change in the world one apartment at a time,” Lorin said. “As everyone said today, there’s not one solution, there’s 10 — and we need to do all 10.”

Related faculty

  • Gary Dean Painter

    Director, USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation
    Director, Homelessness Policy Research Institute