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We need to talk about America’s silent housing crisis

Ron Terwilliger and Leonard Wood – UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Ron Terwilliger and Leonard Wood (MBA ’72)

If you could start any company right now, what would it be?

I was asked this question in an interview for a real estate position at a high-tech firm. It’s a thought-provoking question that I did not have any semblance of a prepared answer for. After some quick thought, I exclaimed, “An affordable housing firm!”

I am unsure why this excited me at the time. To be honest, I felt embarrassed by my answer. After all, what is sexy about affordable housing?

At the 2016 UNC Real Estate Conference, Ron Terwilliger, chairman emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential, passionately laid out just why affordable housing needs to be at the forefront of our work in the real estate industry.

There is not a single county in the U.S. that can fully meet the demands of low-income households. A Fortune article notes there are only 28 adequate and affordable housing options for every 100 extremely low-income households – those with an income at or below 30 percent of the area median. Meanwhile, the number of affordable housing starts continues to fall short of projected demand. Households are spending more than 50 percent of income on rent, resulting in economic hardships that make it difficult for families to purchase simple necessities. Regardless of political leanings, this is a crisis and prevents low-income households from getting ahead. Terwilliger challenged conference attendees to take action on affordable housing.

As I learn more about the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, I drew parallels to experiences in my personal journey at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Real Estate MBAs meet with Singapore Housing and Development Board

Mike Oliver (MBA ’17) and Robbie Saclarides (MBA ’17) meet with Singapore’s Housing and Development Board

I met with executives of Singapore’s Housing & Development Board while participating in a Global Immersion Elective (GIE). After achieving self-governance in 1959, the country was plagued by a tremendous housing shortage. Singapore’s government committed to an initiative that provided housing to its citizens, giving residents increasing opportunities to get ahead financially. Today, 80 percent of Singapore citizens reside in affordable housing. The country has advanced to a developed economy with the world’s third-highest GDP per capita. Reflecting on my GIE experience gave me an appreciation for the influential work that the Terwilliger Foundation is doing by lobbying to recalibrate the United States’ federal housing policy and address America’s silent housing crisis.

As a UNC Kenan-Flagler student, I served as a board fellow for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. Habitat for Humanity is a force for good and works to ensure that everyone has a decent, affordable place to live. The affordable housing climate in Chapel Hill presents significant challenges. Rents are too high and land is at a significant premium. How can one justify the land cost? How can developers create adequate supply?

These are the same challenges faced by other counties across the U.S. It comes as no surprise that Terwilliger contributed a $100 million legacy gift to Habitat for Humanity, benefiting 60,000 households.

Now, our challenge as real estate professionals is to increase advocacy and for each of us to make affordable housing top of mind. How can you make an impact?

By Michael Oliver (MBA ’17)