What we’re reading: Refugee Cities

By Anya Brickman Raredon, Global Associate

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page article by Michael Kimmelman about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, naming it as a “Do-It-Yourself City”.  Here at AHI, we’ve spent part of the spring and summer speaking at conferences and raising a related set of questions to humanitarians and global housing finance experts:

What is the nature of long-term humanitarian settlements? Can we continue to see refugee camps as “camps” or are they actually “instant cities”?

Untitled

Four years after the earthquake this IDP camp is now a thriving community. Port-au-Prince, Haiti 2014. Photos by author.

UNHCR recently reported that the number of refugees wordwide exceeds 50 million.  This number is only likely to increase as cities and countries face increasing instability and environmental risk, making the question of where refugees live and what the conditions of those places are an ever more pressing question.  Furthermore, when entire cities are displaced, the demographics of refugee populations cut across economic lines, and new 2013-11-08 15.05.39settlements (camps) include tradesmen, entrepreneurs, educators, and a whole range of professionals – challenging our preconceptions of camps filled with the poor, unskilled, and helpless.
Individuals, even when displaced from their homes, will shape the spaces in which they live – whether that be through planting vegetables in pots by their door, hooking up their tent to electricity, or working with their neighbors to pave the road and reduce dust.

As the NYT article points out in the case of Zaatari, “There is even a travel agency that will provide pick-up service at the airport, and pizza delivery, with an address system for refugees that camp officials are scrambling to copy.”

This sure sounds like the beginning of a city to me.  So how do we shift humanitarian thinking, actions, and systems to acknowledge this reality and redirect the expenditures of supporting these settlements into investments in long-term development which can benefit both the current refugee families and the surrounding host communities? How do we shift the paradigm from seeing refugees as ‘beneficiaries’, and instead view them as proactive and able to contribute to the environments in which they live?

For more information read the article here: “Refugee Camp for Syrians in Jordan Evolves as a Do-It-Yourself City”

Or download our presentation from the InterAction Forum in Washington DC, Shelter Camp or Instant City: June 2014 where we held a joint discussion with Charles Setchell of USAID/OFDA and Seki Hirano of Catholic Relief Services.  In this discussion it was highlighted that there are many similarities between long-term humanitarian resettlements and urban conditions – such as heterogenous populations with specific needs and skills – and that humanitarian and relief organizations need to integrate urban planning into their contingency planning and pre-positioning strategies.  As Charles Setchell said in his presentation, “shelter is more than a house, tent or sheet, it can generate greater economic activity than any other humanitarian sector in -disaster-/crisis-affected settlements, and jump-start longer-term development.”  We here at AHI agree, and want to push this thinking into action.

Guest Post: Painting Slums

The following guest post by Noll Tufani, the Haiti Country Director for Build Change, opens our minds to how we can share our experiences working in housing and informal settlement upgrading with both intellect and creativity.

Cerfs_Volants_HiRes

Cerfs Volants

As a humanitarian professional implicated in slum-upgrading projects, I’ve come to realize that slums are key revelators of the challenges facing modern cities, of the broader development challenges facing entire countries or regions, and of a universal condition that humanity has been facing through the ages.

The economic, social, political, environmental and ethical implications of our times can all be found in the slums.

I realized that slums had rubbed-off on me when I began to feel this urge to draw and paint them. At first representing the slum itself was important to me, but then I started to give-in to an even stronger urge to render the slum as relative as it is to the very slum dwellers and as inconspicuous as it is to the ruling classes. The best way to do this was to merge three concepts:

  • The slums are everywhere: whatever the product one consumes, someone from a slum somewhere has had something to do with that product. And this is also true for the products we discard as trash. Whatever the location in the world, there is a slum of sorts, hidden from the mainstream, but very much intertwined with it. Whether a Brazilian favela or a squatted run-down building in the heart of Paris, ignoring the existence of slums is simply failing to fully understand the world we live in.
  • Slums are not slums in the eyes of their residents: slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations and their moments of joy beyond the contingency of the slum. They are able to create this reality that renders the hardship of the slum relative and as a result, they transform the slums into welcoming and heartwarming places from which they project themselves into their dreams and life-plans.
  • Slums evoke hardship and suffering: although slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations beyond the slum, they are very much aware of the daily hardship of living in the slum. From lack of comfort, to exposition to crime, disease and natural disasters, slum-dwellers wish they were living elsewhere, and non-slum-dwellers wish the slum were not there!
Bidonville_en_bordure_de _mer_HiRes

Bidonvuille en bordure de mer

Loiseau_HiRes

Loiseau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I represent the slums in my paintings by symbolizing the small houses by drawing simple symbols that resemble a “pi” Greek letter. Aggregating the “pi” letters on the canvas can give the impression of realist-like slum neighborhoods as well as the surreal feeling of erratic symbols populating an otherwise undisturbed image.

I do my best to reach a surreal rendering of light, colors, heat, optimism on the one hand, mixed with undertones of darkness, cold and despair which give an almost realist feel to otherwise fantasist compositions.

Terremoto_HiRes

Terremoto

I hope you enjoy it.

You are welcome to visit my gallery at http://nolltufani.deviantart.com/

-Noll

What we’re reading: A ‘nationwide gentrification effect’ is segregating us by education

On Friday, The Washington Post highlighted the views of Standford economist Rebecca Diamond, who believes that gentrification is no longer a problem for individual neighborhoods, but for cities as a whole.

As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city.

This effectively means that college graduates in America aren’t simply gaining access to higher wages. They’re gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.

…Sure, the San Francisco tech worker has to spend a larger share of his income on rent than a low-skilled worker in Oklahoma City. But all of the added amenities of living in San Francisco outweigh that higher cost.

Read the full article here.

A Typical Home: the Town House – Sai Gon, Vietnam

By: Duong Huynh, Project Manager

Housing is complex. Its stakeholders and creatures are as varied as the skin colors of the human race – developers and financiers, consumers and policy makers. Its value chains are highly intertwined – demand side and supply side, taking us from land obtainment to consumer off-take and move-in. At the core of this complex system lies the key product it helps to produce more of, and in high quality: the home.

So via this post, I hope to inspire my colleagues and myself in understanding the typologies of homes all over the world in closer detail. For this first venture, I chose Sai Gon, Vietnam; otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.

789px-LocationVietnamSaiGon

Sai Gon’s location on the southern tail of Vietnam’s “S” shape

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

With any emerging markets, growth and architectural landmarks sit alongside dated low-density residential uses.

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Within any nation and economy, many diverse sets of housing typologies exist. Vietnam is no exception.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

Old mid-rise apartments. Targets low and low-middle income.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Detached villas.

Detached villas.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

The working middle class housing typology we explore today lies among Sai Gon’s densely packed urban grid in relatively tight quarters.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Most Sai Gon residents live in a small size town home.

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

In this snapshot, note Google Map’s recording of many traffic arteries in white, leaving out rectangles of tan’s and green’s in between. Within each of these colored blocks, tens and at times hundreds of alleyways exist. Many of the alleyways are designated with numbers, not names.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

Houses located along significantly wider residential roads guarantee notable increases in price. Properties with access to roads of at least 4-5 meters are deemed to have good “frontage” and hence valued higher. Note that the properties that line these wider streets also have wider land parcels.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

As noted in the architect’s site plan above, typical desirable plots within the city often come in the common tube like size of 4 meters wide by 20 meters deep. Despite that highly constraining size, many parcels of 2.5-3 meters in width abound within the housing market.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design. This is not affordable housing by any means, but it provides a cost-efficient well-designed solution to the current challenge of land scarcity.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s eco-conscious and efficiently budgeted project, the green town home (direct translation: the garden home), serves as an ideal vehicle for demonstrating the layout of the Vietnamese home amidst increasing land scarcity and need for sustainability in architecture.

1326422338-section

Due to high size constraints, particularly from the limited width of the land parcels, the Vietnamese town home often features one key function per floor. Here, the first floor serves as parking and guest’s welcome room. The second features living and dining rooms, leaving the upper two floors as private living quarters for the household.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Bath.

Bath.

Simple bed room.

Simple bed room.

The layout of uses of the green town home mirrors that of most vertically oriented town homes. Vo’s design stands out in its utilization of greenery as light and heat filters, as well as the vertical columns that allow for top-down lighting to reach the lower levels. The greenery also allows for privacy amidst the tightly packed homes.

5

Vo paid particular detail to the home’s ability to blend into the street scape of Sai Gon despite its modernity. Above, the green town home is featured at the center of the street section to showcase its chameleon nature.

I’d like to also draw attention to a critical feature of the Vietnamese home – the shrine room. Vietnamese of all religions mostly practice ancestral worship. Within this spiritual belief, ancestors’ worship space must occupy an auspicious and respectful space within the home. Typically, the shrine room, where photographs of ancestors, incense and flowers are displayed, is located at the very top level of the home for reasons of spirituality and practicality. The most respectful space should be located at the top. Additionally, with the constant tropic heat and sun, the top floor of any town home is typically undesirable as living quarters due to its high heat retention.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Aside from this religious feature, the modern Vietnamese home’s uses differ little from that of other nations. Of course architectural differences and features still arise due to factors of climate, construction materials availability, design preferences, etc.

Well, that’s aside from the fact that most Vietnamese bathrooms feature an open bathing space. This means the entire bathroom’s floor space is considered a wet zone – as you might be able to observe from the drainage hole located at the bathroom corner in the picture below.

2062014144218562

Historically, families did laundry by hand and the bathroom floor is constantly utilized for such. However, as washers become more common in middle income households, consumers might phase out of this design feature.

 

 

Housing is a complex system. It is so inherently complex and challenging, because it lies at the core of every society, nation and family. Without a home, ordinary citizens cannot thrive no matter how hard they work. Only with increased access to housing can nations all over the world continue to nurture their best citizens and maintain their most beautiful sceneries and moments.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Rice patties.

Rice patties.

Canal in Hoi An.

Canal in Hoi An.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

 

Slummin’ it at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

By Judy Park, Analyst

Attending the World Cup is no easy task. From competing with millions of global fans for randomized lottery tickets at 5 AM in the morning to paying for transport, lodging, and entertainment, it takes dedication. And a small fortune.

But as I watch euphoric, emblazoned fans fill the corners of my low-def screen, it’s clear that it’s worth it.

USA USA USA USA USA USA USA !

To give you an idea of the actual cost: an all-inclusive package from a middleman vendor starts at $5000 per head. For anyone not a relative of a FIFA higher-up or the pampered staff of an oil company, it is tough going; most hotels and transport options are booked up a year before the first ball hits the turf.

So how’s an average entry-level twenty-something, and those of similar budget, to partake?

Many have opted to save by staying at cheap rooms throughout Rio’s notorious slums, or favelas. As I mentioned in an earlier post about affordable housing and mega-sporting events, these favelas are the hot new spot for budget travelers looking for “authentic” Rio experience.

A room for rent is seen at the Maria Clara dos Santos home and hostel in the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro April 11, 2014. Picture taken April 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) – via The Atlantic CityLab

A lounge is seen at the Mirante do Arvrao hotel in the Vidigal slum in Rio de Janeiro March 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) via The Atlantic CityLab

Vicente Magalhaes prepares a room to be rented at his home in the Pereira da Silva slum in Rio de Janeiro April 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) via The Atlantic CityLab

A driving force for this trend is the new start-up Favela Experience, whose young CEO Elliot Rosenberg, a recently minted graduate from UVA, was inspired with the idea during a summer internship with a social venture capital firm in Brazil. He now lives in the Rocinha favela full time.

To book out rooms, Favela Experience launched an Indiegogo campaign from December to February, drawing in customers with the promise of beach and city views at a third of the price in a “safe, centrally-located, culturally vibrant” neighborhood, and with pristine pictures such as these:

Single bed in a shared guest room for five nights: $250. Via The Favela Experience.

Private studio or one-bedroom apartment for two guests for five nights: $1000. Via The Favela Experience.

Private two-bedroom apartment for four guests for five nights: $1600. Via The Favela Experience. Am I at an internationally notorious slum or a Caribbean resort?

Contrast this with the Daily Mail’s adjective-heavy sensationalist take on things:

Daily mail

Who’s got it right? I’m guessing the truth’s somewhere between photoshop and overblown flash.

Favela Experience says their enterprise goes beyond just capitalizing on a supply-demand gap: it’s a model of cultural exchange and economic empowerment that can have a meaningful impact on the lives of favela residents. Sustainable tourism is the strategic tagline here:

Favela Experience uses sustainable tourism as a force for good in favelas and the world. We shun any tourism activities that exploit, misrepresent, or objectify marginalized communities, as many favela tour companies do. Those companies are operated by outsiders who perpetuate negative stereotypes about favelas, dehumanize residents, and do not contribute to local socioeconomic development.

As such, our services are born from our conviction to transform favela tourism in Rio de Janeiro and prove a replicable model of sustainable tourism as an example for similar communities elsewhere. By allowing meaningful and authentic dialogue between favela residents and guests, we show both the positive and challenging realities of life in these communities and do not glamorize poverty in favelas. Ultimately, we practice sustainable tourism because we generate additional income for favela residents, facilitate genuine cultural exchange, break negative stereotypes about favelas, and provide accommodations with low environmental impact.

In all, it is not yet clear what net impact the World Cup and the Olympics will have on the favelas and their residents. The pacification programme – which was cobbled together by the government in anticipation of intense international scrutiny during the country’s double whammy hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics – is credited with introducing key safety and municipal services. Not only that, but by doing this, it has quickly raised the investment value of these neighborhoods:

Today, with several UPP stations set up throughout Vidigal, the area is becoming a full-fledged neighborhood with municipal electricity, waterworks, and national mail service. The pacification program has not only removed the imminent threat of gang violence from the streets and reduced the city’s murder rate, it’s also created a new legion of real-deal slumdog millionaires who suddenly find themselves owning some of the most sought-after land in Rio. (The Daily Beast

I’m a bit skeptical about that last part: “legion of real-deal slumdog millionaires.” Things like this very rarely work out in favor of the poor. Also, the pacification programme is suffering a host of criticism about police abuse and misplaced priorities.

In the end, the Daily Beast’s assessment of the favelas’ fate seems rather glum:

Only one thing remains certain at the moment: Now may be the last time to experience this unique way of life in Rio before the community gentrifies beyond recognition, or before it succumbs to the clutches of its original drug overlords who are waiting to crawl out from the woodwork and reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs. (The Daily Beast

So, either gentrification and cultural annihilation or a drug-slum-lord-dom. Is there no happy medium? I know I’m asking a difficult and perhaps fundamental question here, but how can we preserve what’s good about the favelas, their vibrant social and cultural fabric, while ensuring that standards of living and economic mobility improve?

Also, are you one of the lucky few who made it down to the World Cup and stayed in the favelas? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

How to get a Master’s in Affordable Housing?

By: Janaki Kibe, Project Manager

I live in Boston, Massachusetts, part of a larger metropolitan area that is home to over eight universities, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts, Northeastern, Brandeis, and University of Massachusetts – Boston. Despite the plethora of academic types and abundance of obscure course titles (i.e. “Alien Worlds” – yes a real course offered at Boston University), I haven’t found a school yet that offers a Masters in Affordable Housing. (And yes, I have looked).mad_scientist

Yet, with my inherent Tiger Mother DNA and the endless enthusiasm of my mad-scientist boss, David Smith, my colleagues and I have been stealthily crafting our own unofficial Master’s in Affordable Housing.

tiger_mother

After much anticipation—I know you were anticipating it—I am ready to unveil the curriculum.

Course 1: SUP-665 Real Estate Finance and Development Fundamentals

Harvard Graduate School of Design or Harvard Kennedy School

Professor: Ed MarchantHarvard_gsd

Ed Marchant, an enthusiastic practitioner (read: actually worked in the field!) and real estate teacher extraordinaire, is a wonderful person to introduce you to the world of real estate development, and really, aren’t we all in need of such a person? In Marchant’s class, which is offered in the fall, you’ll build your own pro formas, calculate IRRs and NPVs, and understand how discount rates impact your returns. The class is a mix of students who have worked in real estate and finance and then the rest of us, who are pretty much akin to blank stares, I mean slates. While the first few weeks of the course may be overwhelming—Marchant has a tendency to surprise students with a slew of rapid-fire questions “What is the IRR? What happens when vacancy rates increase by 2%? What does 40B say?”—there will be a eureka moment when things fall into place and you realize, “Geez! This is amazing!”. And that’s when the fun starts. I definitely recommend this course for anyone who has an inkling that they are interested in real estate and wants to understand what the heck people mean when they say NPV!

Course 2: SUP-666 Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing Development, Finance, and Management

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Professor: Ed Marchant

In the Spring, you can follow up on your newly developed real estate skills by taking Marchant’s Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing course, which is offered at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). In addition to learning a heck of a lot about subsidies and financing for affordable housing development in the US, students also have the opportunity to participate in an affordable housing development competition. In our small office in Boston, four of us participated in this competition over the last four years—and three placed a prestigious second in the competition. One claims that she was fourth place (note: they only give awards for the top three places). The competition is great. You form a student team comprised of architects, planners, MBAs, and the occasional policy folk, are paired with an actual Community Development Corporation, and are given the task of creating a development proposal for a specific site in the Greater Boston metropolitan area. The proposals must be architecturally and economically feasible and desirable. For most of us students, it was the first time that we were working on “real” projects and the opportunity to deal with real world constraints rather than theoretical ones was appealing.

AHI Staff win 2nd place at the Boston Affordable Housing Development Competition

Course 3: Real Estate in Frontier Markets

Harvard Business School

Professor Nic Retsinas

After taking the two Marchant classes you should have a solid understanding of real estate fundamentals and may find yourself itching to apply some of your real estate skills in the exotic emerging markets. If you find yourself in that scenario, you should happily embrace Professor Retsinas’ Real Estate in Frontier Markets at the Harvard Business School. (Full disclaimer: You may have to change from the ironic hipster t-shirts you wore to the GSD to JCrew slacks to match your fellow students).

Professor Retsinas’ class is structured as a series of case studies focused on different countries and different types of real estate asset classes. We read about actual deals covering everything from slum upgradation in Mumbai to luxury condominium development in Europe, and even heard about Magic Johnson’s investment in urban neighborhoods around the country. Professor Retsinas organizes many visitors so nearly 80% of classes have a guest speaker who is a central character in the development. I always enjoyed listening to the guests share the rationale behind their decision making.

Course 4: International Housing Finance Course

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Marja Hoek-Smit

Now, if you’ve really got the housing bug the capstone is dwharton_schoolefinitely attending Wharton’s International Housing Finance Course at UPenn. My colleague, Duong, and I attended this 9-day course last week and loved it. We were in a class of 50 students comprised of mid to senior-level executives (bankers, developers, and Ministry of Housing-Settlement-Development folk) who were all passionate about housing finance and figuring out how to make housing systems more efficient in their respective countries. Our year had sizeable contingents from Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, and Thailand. Over the course of 9 days, we learned about the attributes of successful housing markets, housing policies, and housing finance systems. We also learned about the failures of certain housing initiatives. I always prefer listening to guests over reading text books (I know, I am a real new age learner), and Professor Marja was wonderful in arranging an array of guest lecturers who accounted real life housing choices and their implications.

One of my favorite guests was Sean Closkey, President of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF). TRF is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that invests capital in poor neighborhoods in the aim of helping spur neighborhood revitalization. What makes TRF particularly unique is that they have developed a very strong analytical mapping tool that helps them decide where to invest and also later assists them in evaluating whether their investments are “successful.” Their policy map is unique and a great tool to make sure that scare resources—ehem money—are used effectively and efficiently. In many of the countries where we work—India, Haiti—finding good, reliable, data on housing is extremely difficult. There generally aren’t housing indices and finding any sort of data on house prices at a granular house-level basis is challenging if not non-existent. The policy map is a great tool for governments to strive to develop over time and, I think, could be very lucrative for developers who know how to use it.

Another guest I really enjoyed was Soula Proxenos of the International Housing Solutions, a PE fund that invests in affordable housing developments in South Africa and its neighboring countries. IHS targets markets with high housing demand and stable political and economic landscapes. Fund I – The South Africa Workforce Housing Fund is closed and IHS is currently raising funds for Fund II.

Lastly, I can’t end this blog without mentioning Alejandro Murat, CEO of Infonavit, the largest mortgage lender in Mexico. Mr. Murat came to our class to talk about the changes in Mexico’s housing policy and the implications for Infonavit and housing development going forward. Mexico City is a sprawling city of 8.9 million people. Most of that sprawl has been made possible through the PAN government’s support of cheap social housing that was built on the outskirts of cities.

“The premise of a new life in a new home, away from the crime-ridden inner cities was enough to appeal to millions of Mexicans during this this period, who were initially willing to move far into the outskirts (as far as 30 km from the city center) and accept a smaller house (as small as 32 m2) than the one they left behind. With the public housing agencies (INFONAVIT and FOVISSSTE) dishing out subsidized mortgages at record low prices, it seemed like there was never a better time to buy.” Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rodrigo-aguilera/mexicos-housing-bubble-fr_b_4349691.html

Unfortunately, by the time the 2009 crisis rolled around, residentAbandoned houses in Mexicos were no longer in favor of long commutes to houses that often lacked infrastructure and services. As a result, many residents decided to abandon their houses and move back into the city –closer to their jobs, social networks and transportation. Today, 5.5 million homes lie vacant across peri-urban areas in Mexico.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, which is part of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), came to power in 2012 and shifted the direction of housing policy in Mexico. Recognizing the social and economic problems of building houses that are disconnected from infrastructure, jobs and transit, the PRI government has shifted the policy focus to spurring vertical (i.e. high-rise) development closer to city centers. Unfortunately, this has been bad news for some of the country’s biggest home builders, Urbi, Cases GEO and Homex, which had bought large tracks of cheap land under the previous government.

Stocks of Mexican homebuilders have dropped sharplyWith the poise of someone truly adept at answering difficult questions, Mr. Murat spoke about the implications of the policy changes on Infonavit, including the need for better coordination and facilitation between housing entities, the push to develop rental housing as a housing option that offers greater labor mobility and flexibility to households, and lastly a shift to find ways to retrofit and upgrade existing housing stock rather than continually focusing on new housing.

So, after writing far more than I intended, I would like to offer our loyal readers to contribute with their own suggestions of courses, articles or books that have been particularly meaning in shaping your own Master’s in Affordable Housing.

Me with Professor Marja and the Mortgage Professor

Photo update: Mongolia in June

By: Molly McGowan

It’s Friday, so I think photos are in order. Check out some city and country scenes from a recent AHI trip to Ulaanbaatar, where we are working with our local team to help the municipality of Ulaanbaatar develop an affordable housing strategy.

North-facing city view, taken from the Zaisan Memorial

IMG_1909

Ger area, north of city

IMG_1989

Development east of Zaisan Memorial (south of city center)

IMG_1793

Decorative ger outside of working retreat hotel

IMG_1814

Driving back from working retreat hotel

IMG_1734

Chinggis Khan statue