Attainable Housing and Private-Sector Action: In Conversation with Matt Strahan of the World Economic Forum

Welcome to the third episode in our web series, Resilient Housing Across the Americas, a set of 1:1 conversations with leaders across countries and sectors discussing challenges and the future of housing.

This week we are joined by Matt Strahan of the World Economic Forum to discuss attainable housing and the role of the private sector in advancing housing resilience. In case you missed it, make sure to catch the first two episodes in our series with Mayor Mitch Roth of Hawaii County and Mayor William Dau of Cartagena, Colombia.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Elizabeth Hausler: We’re here at the Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver with Matt Strahan from the Center for Financial and Monetary Systems from the World Economic Forum. And we’re talking about resilient housing. Thank you so much, Matt, for joining us. 

Matt Strahan: Thank you, Dr. Hausler. Great to be here and great to be at the summit as well. Excellent. 

EH: Could you tell us a little bit about the housing initiatives that you’re prioritizing within your work at the World Economic Forum? 

MS: Within the Center for Financial and Monetary Systems at the World Economic Forum, we’re broadly looking at the housing affordability crisis, but specifically focusing on something that we’re calling attainable housing. 

Attainable housing has a lot of different definitions but the one that we’re using for our initiative is housing which is good quality, non subsidized, applicable for either owner-occupied housing or rentals and affordable to households who make between roughly 80 and 120% of area median income. So it’s kind of a way to put quantitative metrics around this kind of qualitative concept of workforce housing or middle income housing, etc.

And so far, we’ve been running an ongoing workshop series where we’re bringing different stakeholders together to cover topics and discuss ways to fundamentally drive development and preservation of attainable housing. So we’ve been engaging our partners at the World Economic Forum. We’ve been engaging civil society such as Build Change, policymakers, etc. So really kind of trying to take that full value chain approach to our work. 

EH: Which is lovely and necessary because it’s such a complex issue and you need so many different parties at the table. So you kind of answered this question already. What stakeholders are needed at the table – policy, finance, technology – and what actions do they need to take to advance housing that’s more resilient and more attainable? 

MS: So even within the private sector, we see a ton of interest in this topic from people across  the value chain, across the economy. So obviously real estate companies, development investors as well. We also see interest here from healthcare companies who are increasingly viewing housing as a determinant of health outcomes, as employers who realize that in order to attract a solid and sustainable workforce, they need affordable forms of housing in their areas. We also obviously see interest from lenders, investors, etc., technology companies and solutions providers who are delivering those lower cost materials we need  to lower the cost of housing. 

So, really kind of fundamentally multi-stakeholder and like I mentioned, also civil society, academics, advocacy groups as well, and lastly, policymakers, which is a big bucket. Policymakers who do local decision making so around zoning or land use decisions, as well as folks who are taking more regional or metro-level decisions around housing as well. 

In terms of three big things to focus on: one, unique financing mechanisms, both on the developer side as well as on the residents side. Two, some of those non-subsidy based enabling policies at a local level. So, inclusive zoning practices, investing in infrastructure, reducing parking minimums, simplifying permitting processes, etc. And third is just cost of  materials and kind of continued innovation in that physical built environment space. 

EH: That’s so similar to Build Change’s model of people, money and technology; policy because there’s a policy change element, the regulations, but enabling environment, financing, I mean, there’s so much innovation that still needs to be done in terms of financing. And then the  technical stuff that underpins it all the technology platforms, building materials, the train workforce. So yeah, it’s very similar. So we’re aligned for sure. What has surprised you since you’ve been working on attainable housing? 

MS: I think housing is one of those things which impacts all of us, right? We all are dealing with  this housing affordability crisis. We’re all paying our rent, we’re all paying our mortgages, going out and trying to buy homes. And so I guess what I would say what’s really surprised me is it’s impacting everyone. But it’s not just real estate companies or policymakers who are going to be the folks who come up with the solutions that we need here. Right? 

It’s going to involve all of those folks that we just talked about, you know, the lenders, the solutions providers, etc, which is a little surprising. And also, you know, real estate is a hyper local issue, but so much of this is global. And so you know, finding those different global solutions that can be translated in different regions has been surprising and just a really  valuable part of our work so far. 

EH: So that’s a great segue into my last questions, which is, what are you hoping to achieve here at the Cities Summit of the Americas, which I’m guessing is collaborations and connections? 

MS: Exactly. I think it’s probably to raise the salience of the issue, frankly. It’s to focus in on this really crucial segment of the market and the housing affordability crisis generally and get buy-in from all of the folks that we’ve talked about. Because, again, it’s not just going to be solved by real estate companies or by policymakers themselves. 

EH: I totally agree. Thank you so much for raising the salience of the issue. That is exactly what we need to do and in a way that empowers people, all stakeholders at the table, and in a way that has practical solutions available to share.  Yeah, that’s great. I love it. Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for being part of our interview.

Real estate is a hyper local issue, but so much of this is global…Finding those different global solutions that can be translated in different regions has been surprising and a really valuable part of our work so far.

Learn more about the World Economic Program’s Centre for Financial and Monetary Systems! 

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