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In the Classroom: Students gain understanding of U.S. housing policy, politics of affordable housing

Len Albright teaches social welfare, community development and macroeconomic policies to his “Housing Policy” students.


Housing is an essential human need and a critical sector of the United States economy. And students in professor Len Albright’s “Housing Policy” course are examining key policies at the national, state and local levels, and how they are implemented on the ground.

Every Thursday, nine students gather in a room in Ryder Hall to examine the economic, social, and legal underpinnings of housing policy in the United States across a variety of topics. The goal, Albright said, is to provide students with a strong historical perspective and deeper knowledge of the use of housing policy in the U.S. and primary affordable housing programs at all levels of government, with an emphasis on the largest programs of public housing, rental assistance, and housing production and preservation.

“The course looks at the complicated and evolving roles of all of those involved in housing policy, including advocates, nonprofit and for-profit housing producers, financial institutions, housing practitioners and federal, state, and local agencies and officials,” said Albright, assistant professor of sociology and public policy.

Just four weeks into the semester, students say they have gained a strong foundation of how housing policy has arisen and the role it plays in today’s market.

“It’s interesting to see how housing exists now and where it has come to today where a lot of it is advocacy for mixed income, mixed-use properties,” said Jim Tarr, a second-year student in the MS in Urban and Regional Policy (MURP). “Certain funding mechanisms for affordable housing are drying up and we’re moving away from project housing and getting into more scattered sites.”

On Feb. 2, students explored conservative and liberal takes on social welfare, community development and macroeconomic policies. The previous week, on Jan. 26, they attended a lecture by Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning reporter for The New York Times Magazine, who provided real-world insights into current challenges.

Students in many of the programs housed within the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs (SPPUA), including MURP and the Master of Public Administration (MPA), can take “Housing Policy” as an elective. According to Albright, the course is relevant to all policymakers and planners who recognize that housing is a strategic leverage point in any comprehensive approach to problem solving and impacting social and economic life.

“The most important aspect of the course is the utilization of a problems based approach to learning. We take real-world case studies and analyze planning and policy as a strategy to drive social change. Northeastern students are current and future leaders, and the course is a forum for practically assessing the most pressing social issues of our day.”

—Len Albright, assistant professor of sociology and public policy

Dave Snowdon, a part-time student in the MPA program, enrolled in the course in hopes of sharpening his research and applied data skills while getting a better idea of different types of government intervention and the direction housing policy should take in the future. For Snowdon, stimulating class discussions are the best aspect of the course.

“Because I’m trying to sharpen my research skills I don’t know a lot about housing, so all of it has been new to me,” said Snowdon, director of facilities at Community Rowing, Inc. “It’s a very diverse group of classmates and everyone is bringing lots of different skillsets to the table.”

For Elizabeth Torres, a part-time MPA student, this class is a way to learn what has already been done in housing policy and to avoid previous mistakes.

“We’re looking at different policy implementations over time and how that has affected access to housing,” said Torres, who works in constituent service database management for the city of Boston.

Tarr, on the other hand, is applying the knowledge he acquires in class to his new position as government services specialist at the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass Boston as well as his challenging, client-oriented capstone project. He is participating in the annual Affordable Housing Design Competition hosted by Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston where he and his team must plan and design an affordable housing development.

“It’s on a continuum. This class is helping me bridge that gap,” said Tarr, president of the Northeastern Association for Public Policy Students (NAPPS), a group founded by graduate students at SPPUA. “It’s a great, incredible, and valuable experience.”

Students, Albright said, gain an understanding of the housing delivery system and the various roles of key stakeholder groups across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. As part of their course load, students craft a housing policy memorandum, recommending a specific change in federal/state housing policy and laying out a plan for implementing the proposed change.

Click here to learn more about SPPUA courses and programs.


Published On: February 6, 2017 |
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