In the Innovations in Housing Affordability Lab, Students Tackle the Housing Crisis


Student winners of Hack-a-House. (Courtesy Abby Ivory)

By Natalie Colby, Editor-in-Chief

In Finance 6715, the Innovations in Housing Affordability Lab, students address issues much larger than improving their GPA. In its second year, the lab seeks to address the rising housing affordability crisis through three different angles — construction and design, public policy and regulatory reform and finance. The lab was created to address a very pressing issue and approach a long-standing problem in unique ways.

Selected from 60 applicants and only offered in the fall semester, the class of 15 consists of a large range of skill sets, from master’s students studying real estate and construction to undergrads majoring in finance and political science.

Professor of the class Abby Ivory said that they looked for a diversity of backgrounds so they could find new solutions.

“We’re also trying to get the generation currently facing the issue involved in finding solutions,” she said.

The class is focused around the Ivory Prize, a $200,000 prize that is shared among companies that are focused on innovating and improving the housing affordability crisis through design, policy and financing.

The students in the class look into and vet companies that would benefit from the prize, such as PadSplit, an Atlanta based company that allows for single room renting with week-to-week commitments. They also come up with ideas of their own.

Ivory Innovations associate Beau Maimer, a junior studying political science, said, “The class doesn’t [produce] companies, but it produces visions and insight.”

Additionally, they regularly have guest speakers who are experts in several different aspects of the issue, such as the head of the Harvard Center for Housing Studies.

“The main thing is that it’s such a deep and underserved issue,” Cierra Parkinson, a senior majoring in finance, said about her time in the class.

Members of the class participated in a 24-hour competition called Hack-a-House from Sept. 13-14, where they receive a real-life site on the day of the competition and were tasked with overcoming the “real-world limitations faced by real estate developers, builders, architects, policymakers and financial institution in Utah.”

The four winners of the competition came from the U lab and received a $2,000 prize for their idea buildEDU, “an innovative comprehensive workforce training and homeownership program.” They will also attend the HIVE conference in Austin, TX in December.

In addition to the actual students in the class, they also have six associates working on maximizing the Ivory Prize. The associates work more directly with companies by contacting them to apply for the prize and working with ones that they think will use the money best.

Maimer said that they get mixed reactions to reaching out to companies. Some are grateful for the recognition, while others never reply to them.

As for the actual members of the class, he said that he finds the amount of passion very inspiring.

“People in the class have a lot of knowledge … and I learned so much from them,” Maimer said.


[email protected]