LOCUS announces place-based social equity and affordable housing initiative

LOCUS President Chris Leinberger introduces Place-Based Model for Social Equity
LOCUS President Chris Leinberger introduces Place-Based Model for Social Equity

This week, LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, a program of Smart Growth America, announced a three-part national strategy to address housing and social equity calling upon developers to join them in the cause. The proposed initiative would be centered around new conscious place-based social equity metrics.

The announcement came Tuesday during the third annual Walkable Urban Places Conference, co-hosted by Urban Land Institute Washington and the George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis. LOCUS sponsored the event along with Venable LLP.

The conference kicked off with a stirring introduction by Urban Land Institute CEO Patrick Phillips and GW Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis Chair Christopher Leinberger, LOCUS Founder and President. Henry Cisneros, Founder and Chairman of CityView, delivered the keynote address, focusing on his experiences as Secretary of HUD and as former mayor of San Antonio. “We must focus on the density issue with thoughtfulness and design,” said Cisneros, asserting that cities have always been places where social equity can thrive.

The first panel of the conference discussed maintaining economic diversity in Walkable Urban Places, or WalkUPs, and was moderated by Venable LLP Partner Lawrence Gesner. Don Edwards, Principal/CEO of Justice and Sustainability Associates, suggested that the questions to ask, with regard to gentrification, are “Who benefits?” and “How do we reinvest those benefits into the community to enable equity?” Jair Lynch, President and CEO of Jair Lynch Development Partners and member of the LOCUS Steering Committee, said that residents must see themselves in development plans or else they will feel disenfranchised. Christopher Zimmerman, Smart Growth America’s Vice President for Economic Development, reminded listeners that the key word in “inclusionary zoning” is “inclusionary”.

Later in the day, Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America, moderated a panel on saving the suburban dream. Stan Sloter, President and CEO of Paradigm Companies, said developers must work closely with communities on better ways to create proximate affordable housing. “The solutions are big, and they must be done on a regional level to create opportunities for people of all income levels,” said Bob Youngentob, Cofounder and President of EYA. These statements followed Elizabeth Kneebone’s research regarding the growth of suburban poverty. Kneebone, a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, found that the rate of growth in suburban poverty has outpaced the growth of urban poverty and that, much like urban poverty, that growth has concentrated in suburban neighborhoods. Also on the panel was Rushern Baker, County Executive for Prince Georges County, Maryland, which borders Washington, DC to the east. Baker reaffirmed these findings by stating that much of the region’s affordable housing has found its way into neighborhood clusters in the county.

Congressman Blumenauer discusses federal policy and successes in Portland, OR
Congressman Blumenauer discusses federal policy and successes in Portland, OR

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, whose district covers most of Portland, OR, kicked off the final panel on policy and regulation for advancing social equity. Matthew Klein, President of Akridge, moderated the panel. Jason Jordan, Director of Policy and Communications for the American Planning Association, stated that while many people live in the suburbs, most want to live in the city but cite affordability as a great concern.

Michael Spotts, Senior Analyst at Enterprise Community Partners, said the key to increasing affordability is to increase supply in housing. Elizabeth McCarthy, Director of the DC Office of Planning, also gave a presentation on social equity at the local level, articulating a need for regional partnerships and the cooperation of the private sector.

“The private sector must play a leadership role,” declared Chris Leinberger when introducing the concluding presentation on “A Place-Based Model for Social Equity.” Patrick Lynch, Research and Development Manager for the George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, kicked off the segment with a presentation on affordability. While median income has dropped, Lynch said, housing costs have increased, and unfortunately that additional cost burden has been borne by lower-income households.

Finally, Christopher Coes, Managing Director for LOCUS, outlined LOCUS’ three-part national strategy for addressing the housing and social equity crisis. The program’s first component will be a national campaign advocating for the reform or elimination of outdated housing programs and the creation of new programs needed to address current and future market gaps. A second component will involve the development of a national technical assistance and certification program to enhance the real estate industry and public sector’s ability to increase affordability and accessibility in walkable neighborhoods. A third component will develop an innovative place-based, private sector-led model to manage social equity and affordability goals within walkable urban places. Lastly, Coes and Leinberger issued a call-to-action for the real estate industry to take a leadership role in advocating for housing reform to make great walkable, sustainable communities affordable and accessible to all Americans.

For details on place-based social equity metrics as well as joining LOCUS’ national strategy to address housing and social equity, visit for more information.