Tackling the Housing Issue One Student at a Time

Clark Stephens, FAU '07 (r), with James Carras, visiting assistant professor,
FAU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, at Buena Vista,
a new workforce housing development in Lauderdale Lakes

Affordable housing for everyone from low income to middle class has been a headliner topic for a few years, especially as skyrocketing property taxes and insurance rates are driving critical employees to other communities and out of state.   FAU Assistant Visiting Professor James Carras is taking the issue beyond the rhetoric and inspiring urban and regional planning students to tackle this overwhelming challenge head on.

A professional consultant in the area of housing finance for the past 25 years, Carras has experience teaching at Tufts University, Harvard and MIT and holds professional workshops around the country.   He watched as South Florida planner and government officials tried to grapple with the affordable housing crisis that started to hit our community about three years ago.   Noting that the community was woefully ill prepare to deal with the crisis and that no official partnerships existed to deal with it, Carras helped to form Broward Housing Partnership (BHP).   The nonprofit organization's mission is to "pioneer new approaches, create new tools, and influence housing policy to improve the production and sustainability of affordable housing through its consortium of member organizations in Broward County."

BHP has grown to operate in three areas: education and advocacy; development through the Broward Housing Partnership Land Trust; and financing through the Broward Housing Partnership Trust.   Among the board members of the organization are Joyanne Stephens, Ph.D., Vice President-Provost, Broward; and Cyril "Sid" Spiro of Regent's Bank, who is chair of the organization.

"Collectively, we have advanced the thinking around solutions to affordable housing," said Carras. "It's no longer an issue for the low income only. Now, we know it's affecting our workforce housing also."

He believes that the planners of the future will be better equipped to deal with this issue and will have a greater appreciate for the critical role the private sector can play in the solutions.

Many of the students Carras has mentored or taught in his seminar on housing for both graduates and undergraduates already are pursing careers in the field.   His course is taught within the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and requires students to complete a realistic community project.   They must select a local community, conduct a needs assessment, look at initiatives and make a set of recommendations.

Clark Stephens, FAU '07, took Carras' class the fall of 2006 and focused on Coral Springs for his project.   He said the class was the best one offered in the program and called it a "crash course in affordable housing."  

"I came to understand that this is a regional issue," he said. "People live in one city, but work in another.   All of our cities are interconnected."  

Dealing with the affordable housing issue is like a tool box, said Stephens, "There's no silver bullet.   We have to educate the public about all of the available programs out there and try to remove the false stigma that affordable housing is bad and causes property values to decline."

Lisa Wight, FAU '05, met Carras when she was working on her master's thesis project on Lauderdale Lakes, one of the county's poorest communities.   She sees the area ripe for redevelopment that brings in a more balanced mixed of incomes.   A former employee of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, she saw firsthand the need for creative solutions in urban planning.    A graduate of Florida State University, she came to FAU to earn her master's in urban and regional planning, with a focus on housing and community development, and pursue her dream to make a difference in the housing industry.   An Environmental Growth Management (EGM) Fellow, she became involved in Broward Housing Partnership, where she remains active today. She now works for the Broward County Public School Board in the growth management department and in the area of affordable housing, an issue that is greatly impacting the school district's ability to recruit quality teachers.

"We have to make investments in solutions and find ways to make the limited funding work," she said.

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