ULI: Ready for Opportunity?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 06 April 2021 00:00

The pandemic has pushed the “fast-forward” button on housing.

Who’s ready to act on this massive opportunity?

During the recent two-day Urban Land Institute (ULI) 2021 Housing Opportunities Conference, experts from many areas of the real estate and construction industries compared notes on where their sector stands and where it could go from here.

Representing the largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world, ULI’s mission is to “Shape the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide.”

Ali Wolf, Chief Economist for Zonda, a housing data and consulting firm, opened the annual conference by exploring the “economic backdrop” to prove that “housing [is] the strongest sector in the entire economy.” Astutely-presented statistics made it evident that by thinking—even jumping—outside the box of past experience, opportunities abound and progress can be made on many fronts at once.

When the right mindsets exist…

An impressive roster of experts virtually, alone and in panels, addressed issues, dissected challenges, and shared lived experiences. The following five mindsets for capturing opportunity reveal the breadth and depth of change essential to reap benefits from housing opportunities.

Five ULI Conference Insights

#1. “Back to Normal” may mean going Backward

The world has moved on from pre-pandemic “normal” to fast-forward into some challenging realities. Aiming to return to “normal” may ignore progress made and may actually be a step backward. Recognition of the value of home, coupled with less interest in “the office,” is driving current real estate trends. Since opportunity increases at the intersection of trends, creating new normals as work and home blend is one example of moving forward. Wolf identified “live and work where you like as a huge game changer for real estate” and pointed out that “30 miles from downtown represents 70% of best sellers.”

#2. Standardization Is Not The Goal

David Brickman, former Chief Executive Officer of Freddie Mac, one of the largest US providers of mortgage financing, explored “The Future of US Housing Finance” through the lense of challenges like affordability, Covid-19 impact, and long-term-impact demographic and climate shifts.


In answer to a question about his statement “In the midst of opportunity is innovation,” Brickman responded: 

“I’m thinking there are ways we can experiment. One part of that is standardization and the other part of that is the ability to underwrite investing and, then, ultimately distribute risk associated with alternative projects and mortgage structure as a way to encourage a bit more experimentation as something more worthwhile. I think the markets could accommodate that in a way that is prudent from a risk perspective and doesn’t introduce a [new] source of risk.”

#3. Inclusion Must Run Deep

• Dawnita Wilson, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for JBG SMITH, a Washington, DC-based real estate company, stressed that opening minds to create an inclusive organization intent on equitable practices involves more than searching out diverse talent. Intentional changes to systems, practices, and processes are essential to make inclusion a reality and not merely superficial or visual lipservice. Organizational transition can be uncomfortable, so individuals and groups may need help adjusting to essential mind shifts which require commitment and intentionality. Benefits from consistently-applied inclusion and equitable practices are firmly tied to ROI.

• Meegan Denenberg, co-founder of Little Giant Creative, a full-service creative agency, explained shifting patterns like aspirational design and provided examples of how they are applied. For instance, many design and innovation labs are located in already-well-resourced areas instead of locating where resource-deprived entrepreneurs live. One investment example of overcoming often-ignored practical barriers, represented by long, out-of-neighborhood transit trips, is Philadelphia’s IF Lab – The Idea Factory. The multi-use, co-working community space is located in an underserved, but high-potential business community to facilitate highly-beneficial entrepreneurial growth in situ. This pilot will be followed by City Creative Labs planned for multiple cities facing transition.

#4. The Cost of Not Letting Go

Transitioning to new technologies, processes, and markets may involve letting go of a lot of purchases and projects that represent currently invested revenue. Relying on this out-dated financial burden and heritage technology to propel forward growth can, in the long run, be more expensive than letting go and striking out on fresh solid ground. This was an underlying topic in many sessions, but the panel in “Harnessing Housing Development Time and Cost Through Technology” dug in deep. For instance, Arlan Collins, CEO of Seattle’s Sustainable Living Innovations related innovation to construction delivery cost and time by sharing the example of modular technology reducing the construction cost of a 15-storey building by about 50% and the timing to approximately 13 months. Lowering energy bills for units by 70% was an additional benefit.

#5. Collaboration Drives Innovation

Creative, flexible thinking combined with supportive government investments can overcome industry or societal inertia if the mental exercise of letting go takes place on a significant scale. Lifelong-learning keeps professionals prepared to observe and act on opportunity. 

An industry-wide, or at least sector-wide, transition may redefine how companies work together and where profit lies. Banding together sends governments the “fast-forward” message for improvements to key “enabling” aspects of real estate, construction, and land use.

ULI Research reveals the way:

• How to solve the middle-class housing shortage
• How to solve the shortage of family-friendly rental housing 
• As extreme weather worsens, investors consider fleeing vulnerable cities
• How to build climate resilience in cities worldwide   

Where do your thoughts and reactions lead you when you are faced with emerging opportunity?

• If you focus on reasons why “it” won’t work, aren’t you tied to the past and probably moving backward in a world that is racing ahead?

• When you react with reason and seek solutions to ensure “it” will work, that’s Forward Thinking!    

Nobody said the future would be easy, but it is open to everything if we are.

For more from the ULI Housing Opportunities Conference, visit PJ Wade’s blog: “What’s Your Point?” — https:www.thecatalyst.com/blog

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PJ Wade —       Decisions & Communities

Futurist and Achievement Strategist PJ WADE is “The Catalyst”—intent on Challenging The Best to Become Even Better. A dynamic problem solver and author of 8 books and more than 2800 published articles, PJ concentrates on the knowledge, insight, communication prowess, and special decision-making skills essential for professionals and their clients who are determined to thrive in the 21st-Century vortex of change.

PJ Wade's latest business bookWhat's Your Point? Cut The Crap, Hit The Mark & Stick!—further proves PJ's forward-thinking expertise and her on-point ability to explain technical, even non-verbal, communication details in practical, actionable terms. Print publication: Fall 2022.

PJ: “What's Your Point?the pivotal 21st-Century business question—must be answered before you open your mouth, hit a key, tap anything or swipe. Too often 'Your Point' is not clear to you and communication remains an expensive illusion.”

As The Catalyst, PJ concentrates on enhancing communication ROI for experienced advisors, executives, entrepreneurs, business owners, and other savvy professionals, who may not have received as much formal training in communication as they have in their own field.

Onward & Upward—The directions that really matter! Reach PJ at pjwade@TheCatalyst.com and visit her What's Your Point? Blog. Keep up-to-date with PJ's popular column  Decisions & Communities


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