First Kreisman Conference Will Offer Interdisciplinary Look at Housing Law and Policy

The Law School’s Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law and Policy will bring together top scholars, policymakers, and other experts next week for an interdisciplinary conference aimed at exploring the innovations, insights, and experiences that are helping to shape the future of housing and housing finance. The event, and a resulting book, will provide a multi-faceted look at a host of complex issues that have been on the national agenda since the recent foreclosure crisis sparked new questions about lending, affordability, fair housing, and homeownership.

“No area of law and policy is more foundational—or more divisive—than housing,” said Law Professor Lee Fennell, who codirects the Kreisman Initiative with Benjamin Keys, an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. “This conference will examine some of society’s most crucial and controversial questions about where and how people will live. We hope to move these issues to the top of the agenda and find ways to join forces to address them constructively.”

The event, Kreisman’s first major conference since launching in 2013, seeks to bring rigorous analysis and testing to a broad range of issues, including land use, historic preservation, the mortgage market, fair and affordable housing, and innovations in lease incentives. Several top policymakers and practitioners—including Brian Brooks, ’94, the Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of Fannie Mae—will lead discussions among scholars from the University of Chicago, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, and other institutions, drawing on diverse perspectives to test ideas and challenge assumptions.

“We’re bringing together many threads of pathbreaking research on housing and housing finance, as well as diverse viewpoints, so that ideas can be refined through discussion and criticism.  The broad-ranging scope of the conference offers opportunities to examine interactions between different pieces of the housing puzzle,” said Fennell, Max Pam Professor of Law and Ronald H. Coase Research Scholar. “At its core, this conference is about making connections—between different facets of housing law and policy, between different disciplinary approaches to housing issues, between academics and policymakers and practitioners, and between the lessons of the past and adaptations for the future.”

The conference papers—the final versions of which will be published by Cambridge University Press in a forthcoming volume, Evidence and Innovation in Housing Law and Policy—will include both empirical and theoretical contributions and will reflect the interactions and feedback generated at the conference. The work will examine how housing policy and finance interacts with changes in cities, infrastructure, and transportation. It will also dig into the ways housing interacts with larger social structures.

Among the contributions will be Historic Preservation and Its Even Less Authentic Alternative, a paper by Lior Strahilevitz, the Sidley Austin Professor of Law. Strahilevitz’s paper examines the use of entirely contrived history on commemorative plaques throughout The Villages, Florida – America’s fastest growing community. Strahilevitz suggests that the differences between fake history in The Villages and traditional historic preservation may be merely matters of degree, and he examines how historic preservation and fake history can affect neighborhood residential demographics in similar ways.

“I am very excited about getting feedback on my project from so many of the nation’s leading thinkers on housing law and policy, and I look forward to reflecting on and debating all the great scholarship that they’ll be contributing to the volume,” Strahilevitz said.

Fennell said she hopes the conference and associated volume will offer a springboard upon which new research and policy prescriptions can build. Kreisman has an open-access arrangement with Cambridge University Press that will enable anyone to download the book for free—an important step toward ensuring that the ideas generated by the conference have continuing broad influence on policies that are central to human experience.

 “The ability of people to flourish and to have access to important opportunities for personal and financial development depend in very basic ways on their housing situation,” Fennell said. “The fallout from displacement, made vivid during the foreclosure crisis, is just one example of how housing law and policy translates into real human and social consequences.  Finding ways to do housing better should be a top priority.”

Housing