30 Nov

Company Spotlight: Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing

By Sooin Choi

Today, affordable housing in the United States is becoming increasingly difficult to find. The Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing was established in 2007, with the support of J. Ronald Terwilliger, to address housing attainability. The Terwilinger Center conducts research on housing best practices that support a full spectrum of housing development, especially for low- and moderate- income households. The Center’s vision is to catalyze the production of housing, provide thought leadership on the housing industry, and inspire a broader commitment to housing. From wide ranging efforts that include award programs highlighting best housing development practices to researching 

issues facing the industry, the Terwilinger Center’s work sheds light on the challenges facing homeowners and renters across the U.S. The American Geographical Society (AGS) had the pleasure of virtually connecting with Michael Spotts, Senior Visiting Fellow, and Fabiola Yurcisin, Senior Associate, to discuss how the Center incorporates geographical data into their work.  

This past July, the Center released its 2022 Home Attainability Index, which utilizes data to map  the availability of attainable housing choices for the regional workforce in 112 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). “It gives a snapshot of what  housing is attainable  and for whom in a particular metropolitan statistical area,” Yurcisin explained. This year’s edition builds upon the 2020 and 2021’s indices that primarily discussed the role of COVID-19 in housing markets. The 2022 Index captures how the pandemic has changed the housing market, whether that be shifting urban demographics, teleworking trends, or eviction protocols. 

Hosted by PolicyMap, the 2022 Home Attainability Index includes a geospatial visualization tool that maps five criteria for each MSA, including: (1) Overall affordability, (2) Homeownership attainability, (3) Rental attainability, (4) Neighborhood opportunity and access, and (5) Housing production. The interactive tool allows users to compare data in different MSAs for each criterion. Michael Spotts explained the main reason for incorporating geospatial visualization in this year’s index was to make it more user-friendly and intuitive, as users do not need to be fluent in ArcGIS to interact with the PolicyMap platform. The Center also wanted to create a resource for practitioners in the field to use the geographical data available in their day-to-day work without needing to be a data analyst. 

Spotts also discussed how the tool allows a cross-regional comparison, which can help inform policy decisions. Cities often compete over talent, and housing affordability is one way a city can have a competitive advantage over their counterparts. Spotts explained this through a hypothetical example, “If you are a company or university in Washington, D.C. aiming to hire employees at a certain wage level, but everyone else in the surrounding regions has lower housing costs, you are at a competitive disadvantage, at least on the housing cost front.” 

Spotts and Yurcisin both addressed how certain occupations are getting locked out of the housing market. In the over 100 metropolitan regions the Index analyzed, there was not one place in the country where a childcare worker could afford to lease a basic two bedroom apartment. After the pandemic, it was clear just how important childcare care workers are, and yet none of them could afford to live where they worked. 

The Home Attainability Index is Terwilliger Center’s first recurring data analysis tool, and the Center plans to incrementally expand its database every year. Yurcisin and Spotts hope their research continues to inform policy-makers, university researchers, planners, and real estate professionals to help catalyze changes in the housing market.

To find out more about Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, visit here. To read the summary report and use the interactive data tools for the 2022 Home Attainability Index, visit here