Stephen O’Connor, the new chair of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis (CREUA), sees a powerful opportunity for the GW School of Business to establish its credentials as an influencer in national affordable housing discussions.
“There isn’t an academic program in the United States that has any materially reasonable focus on affordable housing, on teaching students the nuances in building lower- and middle-income houses,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor, whose research expertise focuses on affordable housing, said even as CREUA students continue to learn about commercial real estate, he would like to see the curriculum expand further to address affordable housing, a growing national and international challenge.
O’Connor joined the George Washington University community from Bucknell University, where he helped to deepen the real estate program and launch a real estate minor that quickly became one of the most popular concentrations at the university’s Freeman College of Management. He has begun connecting with leaders in D.C.’s affordable housing community. Long term, he sees opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration between CREUA and GW Law, the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, and the Department of Sociology at Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
“I see D.C. as a research laboratory,” O’Connor said. “The ability to attract expertise on affordable housing is greater here than any place else. You also have a city that has a level of density that could make commercial-to-residential conversions possible. And you have a housing crisis here, in terms of market and affordability.”
O’Connor, who teaches real estate finance, said CREUA is well-positioned to carve out research expertise on issues that influence housing affordability, including zoning, taxes and tax credits, loan structures, and grants.
He also is considering ways CREUA can contribute to the reputation of GW as a global university, whose School of Business has become a recognized leader in global business education. While at Bucknell, for example, he took students to Ireland, where he taught a course in housing economics.
O’Connor had already more than three decades of experience in the real estate industry when he decided to pursue his PhD in planning and public policy. He brings with him to CREUA the knowledge he gained working in property development, which included multi-family apartment buildings.
“I knew how to build physical infrastructure, but I didn’t know how to build the social infrastructure that makes urban communities better,” said the new CREUA chair. Now, he explained, “we can distinguish ourselves with that kind of research.”