Developing for Social Impact

How can real estate development advance social purpose while accounting for development feasibility?   

With increasing urgency, those involved in shaping the built world are converging in their desire to harness real estate development for positive social impact.  Community development corporations and other mission-focused non-profits are increasingly entrepreneurial, as the philanthropists and public agencies that support them expect them to be.  Governments increasingly leverage surplus land and deploy development exactions and incentives to shape private investment to serve social policy goals.
To fulfill rising expectations to be responsible civic actors, real estate developers have become de facto city-builders, seeking ways to achieve social impact, from housing affordability and climate resilience to food security and job preparedness that goes beyond their project boundaries. Yet there is no established method to reconcile social impact with financial feasibility. 

To address this vexing gap, the course will serve as a social impact development workshop, with two interwoven strands. Through research assignments and class discussion in corporate social responsibility, social impact investing, risk management, enterprise philanthropy and equitable planning, we will work to devise a model for incorporating social impact into market-oriented real estate development. 

We will also apply this model to active Boston development sites. With its strong development climate, sophisticated development community and high public aspirations for development, Boston is an excellent—and easily visited—social impact development laboratory. Real estate developers will visit the class to present projects that seek to align financial and social returns, and will be available outside of class to guide student explorations. 

For their term project, student teams will set financial and social return objectives for a Boston development site of their choosing and propose a method for harmonizing them.  For their mid-term and final reviews, they will make an investment pitch for their case study site to a panel of social impact investors.