How can universities help address the affordable housing crisis?

Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli talks about Penn’s plans.

aerial view of city from Penn

When it comes to a lack of affordable housing—an issue that has taken Philadelphia and other cities by storm—what is the role of a university? Specifically, Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wants to learn how Penn can support the increase of affordable housing using market-based solutions. 

A new, comprehensive approach led by Carnaroli and his team will explore the complex topic in a variety of ways, including strategic recommendations developed by the Penn Institute for Urban Research and a partnership with a nonprofit organization to help senior citizens with modest incomes age in their own homes.  

“Penn IUR is a convener, which is something they are excellent at, bringing diverse voices together in an interdisciplinary way to address urban challenges,” says Carnaroli. “In this case we want to leverage their expertise to learn how urban universities can best engage on the topic of affordable housing in a city, and we want to look at different, tested models to help inform Penn’s own strategy going forward.” 

Recommendations will address affordable housing as it relates to renters, those looking to buy a home, and people who already own but are vulnerable to displacement as the costs of staying in their homes increase. 

To that end, Penn is in the final stages of securing a partnership with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, in which the University would provide funding to assist the work of repairing and maintaining West Philadelphia residences. The goal is to support approximately 75 low-income homeowners—mostly senior citizens—throughout the next four years.

Important to note, adds Carnaroli, is that Penn can’t and shouldn’t tackle such a huge public policy challenge alone. “It will take the public sector, private developers, different institutions, and organizations working together to make substantial progress,” he said.

“The needs of the neighborhood in which Penn exists are changing, and the most pressing need we see now is affordable housing in multiple forms,” says Carnaroli. “It’s something we are being attentive to. It’s not something that is an overnight fix, it will take time and patience, but we will stay the course.” 

Penn Today will keep the University community updated as the Penn IUR study, as well as the partnership with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, progresses. Carnaroli, speaking on behalf of the Administration, notes the commitment Penn has to remaining open to productive dialogue on the important and multi-dimensional issues that surround affordable housing in Philadelphia. 

“We want to engage with our neighbors and our community partners to confront current crises,” Carnaroli says, “effectively fulfilling the functions of a world-class university and a local anchor institution.”