Field Course: Housing in the United States - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Housing in the United States

Course Number 6462

Senior Lecturer Nicolas P. Retsinas
Winter; Q3Q4; 3.0 credits
9 sessions
Paper and presentation
Enrollment: Limited to 35

Course Requirements

Class Participation, Field Project, Meetings with Faculty, Presentation, and Paper

Course Focus

Since the New Deal, government in the United States has played an increasingly large role in the financing and development of housing for low-income households in America and in undergirding the nation's housing finance system. The government's involvement had long been considered successful in increasing homeownership for the middle class, but mostly a disappointment in providing safe and affordable housing for the poor. With the collapse of the United States' mortgage finance system in 2008 a wholesale reassessment of affordable housing finance and development is taking place, including a lively debate over whether the government should support home ownership.

This course provides students with the opportunity to learn about the tools of affordable housing finance and development in the United States and to better understand the debate about the role of government.

Practitioners from the field will present real-world cases and lead discussions about the interaction among businesses, non-profit organizations, and government to provide affordable housing. Students will also have the opportunity to explore and discuss new formulations of affordable housing policy and production in the United States. In the final class, students will present their project findings.

Career Focus

This course provides students an opportunity to link field work for the course to a potential career in affordable housing finance or development. First, the course will introduce them to a network of peers and established leaders who are focused on business opportunities in affordable housing. Second, the project for the course will require students to conduct field work that ultimately results in one of the following deliverables: 1) a business plan for an existing or new affordable housing organization 2) a proposal for an affordable housing development project 3) an HBS case study on an affordable housing development project or 4) a submission to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's Affordable Housing Development Competition.

This year there will be a special emphasis on entrepreneurial opportunities in the disposition of the hundreds of thousands of single-family Real Estate-Owned (REO) properties, especially those held by the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration. Students will be encouraged to explore opportunities in bulk sales, including approaches that support rental and affordable housing needs.

In addition, students will participate in an ongoing debate about the role (if any) of government in bringing about a stable system of housing finance in the US that will attract global capital through mortgage backed securities and emerging capital market executions.

These projects will give students an opportunity to work with practitioners and develop expertise about a policy domain or organization aligned with their potential career aspirations, and to explore the promise and peril of public-private partnerships.

Educational Objectives

The course will enable students to:

  • Build expertise in the tools of affordable housing production and finance.
  • Understand the risks and challenges of affordable housing and approaches to managing them
  • Identify business opportunities in the affordable housing arena that create economic value for investors and social value to communities
  • Develop a network of peers, alumni and affordable housing practitioners who can assist you in furthering your job search or career.
  • Apply skills to real-world challenges facing affordable housing organizations

Course Content and Organization

The course is divided into the four core modules:

  • Origins and evolution of the government's role in affordable housing
  • Today's tools of affordable housing finance and development
  • The credit crisis and its impact on affordable housing policy
  • The future of mortgage finance in the United States

Guests will include representatives from government; for-profit and non-profit developers; as well as equity and debt investors.

Students are encouraged (but not required) to form teams of 2-4. The grade will be based on participation (20%) and performance on the project (80%). Students must develop a preliminary proposal for the project within the first five weeks. Classes will include a mix of interactive lectures, panel discussions involving outside speakers and student presentations.

The seminar will meet on selected Tuesday afternoons from 3:30-5:30 PM.