Developing for Social Impact

This field studies course will use a combination of readings, lectures, class discussion and a focused development exercise for a Boston site to explore how to align financial feasibility and social purpose in real estate development.

Profit-seeking and mission-oriented real estate development, once distinct endeavors, are converging in their methods and aims.  Mission-focused non-profits in social housing, cultural and economic development and place-making are increasingly results-based and entrepreneurial, as the philanthropists and public agencies that fund them expect them to be. Governments increasingly look to harvest surplus land for development that serves social policy goals, and broader recognition of the social and environmental consequences of real estate development has led them to adopt an increasingly rigorous overlay of land use planning, policy and regulation to address potential development impacts and to harness private investment to produce public goods.

Recognizing that they are viewed as de facto city-builders, developers seek ways to become responsible civic actors and to advance social policy goals that go beyond their project boundaries, such as housing affordability and climate resilience. Yet it can challenging to reconcile two sets of objectives that are often in tension, and there are no commonly accepted methods to achieve this alignment. To address this gap, the course will feature readings in social impact investing, social impact assessment, responsible property investment and related fields, along with class visits by leaders of for-profit and non-profit organizations to describe projects that seek to harmonize financial and social returns.