Developing for Social Impact

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

With increasing purposefulness, 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 have become entrepreneurial, tapping market forces to advance their social goals, as their funders expect them to do. Governments pursue ways to leverage surplus land and deploy development exactions and incentives to shape private investment to serve social policy goals. At the same time, to fulfill rising expectations to be responsible civic actors, real estate developers have become de facto city-builders, seeking to achieve social impact, from housing access, climate resilience and food security to improved health outcomes and job preparedness, that ripple beyond their project boundaries. Yet there is no established method to harmonize social impact with financial feasibility. 

To address this troublesome gap, the course will serve as a social impact development workshop, with two interwoven strands. First, through readings, assignments, class discussions and class visits by outside speakers on corporate social responsibility, social impact investing, enterprise philanthropy, development incentives and equitable planning, students will devise a model for incorporating social impact goals into market-oriented real estate development. For the mid-term review, students will present their model to a panel of social impact investors.

For their term project, student teams will apply their model for aligning financial and social returns to an active development site in Boston. With its strong development climate, sophisticated development community and high public aspirations for development, Boston is an excellent social impact development laboratory.  Developer sponsors will visit the class and will be available outside of class to assist student explorations. 

Workshops on basic real estate financial modeling will be conducted outside of class for those without a finance background. Lectures and some class speakers will be recorded for asynchronous viewing. Workshops and discussion sessions, which will predominate, will be synchronous.  In addition, the instructor will meet weekly with student teams during the second half of the term.