Last October, I had the privilege of attending the Real Estate Fall Gathering and Coppola Family Speaker Series, presented by the Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate (“FIRE”) at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. FIRE was established in 2019 to educate and inspire the next generation of real estate professionals at Notre Dame to “create places of lasting value” through scholarship and interdisciplinary collaborations, as part of the University’s mission to be a force for good in the nation and the world. The focus of this program was to examine the nationwide affordable housing shortage and how that problem can be addressed.
It was truly stirring to join together with thoughtful academics, dynamic industry leaders and energetic students to explore this issue. Moderated by Mike Cook, the director of real estate investment at Notre Dame, the panelists included Malcolm Johnson (founder and managing partner of Langdon Park Capital), Charles Loveman (founder and CEO of Heritage Housing Partners), Chris Merrill (co-founder and CEO of Harrison Street), Sheila Delaney (senior executive at JPMorgan), and Evan Mast (professor of economics and FIRE faculty fellow at Notre Dame). Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the conversation focused on the situation in California, as our state’s chronic housing crisis provides a trenchant example of the need for meaningful solutions to the dearth of affordable housing in this country.
I was particularly interested to learn more about Notre Dame’s unique take on this issue, given the real estate industry’s focus on return on investment and the University’s quest to help change the world for the better. One important case study for this approach was how Notre Dame helped a Catholic parish located near the campus of the University of Texas at Austin leverage some of its real estate assets to enhance its financial position and advance its calling to serve the community in faith and good works by ground leasing some of its land for the development of an affordable student housing project along with needed church facilities. As I listened to how this project was described by the panelists, I was reminded of a very similar project in Mountain View that I helped bring to fruition several years ago.
Afterwards, speaking with some of the speakers and other attendees, I was struck by the spirit and vigor that filled the room, and it filled me with hope for the possibility of solutions. When honorable people of good will join together to tackle our most difficult challenges, it is at least conceivable that solutions can be found to our problems, no matter how intractable they may seem.