Building a Strong Foundation in Housing Research

Endowment support is strengthening the study of housing issues and policy at Harvard and honoring the vision of a longtime advocate of equitable housing

Building a Strong Foundation in Housing Research


With a constantly fluctuating market affected by everything from high interest rates and lack of inventory to shifts in demographics and climate change, housing is a key indicator of the overall health of the U.S. economy, and it impacts everyone.

For decades, the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University—affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and Harvard Kennedy School—has worked to advance understanding of housing issues by illuminating the sector’s vital role in communities and the economy at large. Through its research, education, and public outreach programs, the JCHS informs policy, helping leaders in the government, business, and nonprofit sectors make decisions that effectively address the needs of residents. It also trains the next generation of housing leaders through graduate and executive courses, fellowships, and internship opportunities.

JCHS’s director emeritus Nic Retsinas MCP ’71 and his wife, Joan GSD ’69, are helping to solidify the work of JCHS and its ties to the GSD, providing a seed gift to establish the Nicolas P. and Joan B. Retsinas Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies and Senior Lecturer/Professor in Practice in Housing Studies at the GSD. Their commitment has inspired a collective community of nearly 50 donors—including members of the JCHS’s Policy Advisory Board (PAB), a national forum of companies with interests in the future of housing—whose support has made this endowed fund possible. Their giving also honors Nic Retsinas’s impact on the industry and his vision of inclusive and equitable housing programs and policy.

“The field of housing crosses many, many disciplines, and the JCHS is in a unique position to connect leaders in academia, industry, and policy,” says Retsinas. “My hope for this gift was that it would forge even stronger bonds between the center and the GSD and catalyze the endowment for the center’s leadership, and it means the world to me to see that hope come true.”

The position will be awarded to a practitioner or scholar with experience in the housing industry or housing policy or research who will serve both as director and as a senior lecturer on the GSD Urban Planning and Design faculty. In this role, they will help foster partnerships across Harvard programs, centers, and Schools and support critical housing and real estate research and education for years to come.

Nic Retsinas

Retsinas’s own knowledge and experience have shaped the conversation around affordable housing policy at every level. At Harvard, he was the director of the JCHS, a lecturer at the GSD from 1998 to 2010, and a senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School from 2010 to 2019.

As JCHS director, Retsinas recognized the important role PAB members play in identifying emerging issues and advancing housing as a national priority, doubling the size of the organization, expanding its connections to industry, and convening gatherings between academia, nonprofits, and businesses to explore topics and publish research.

Retsinas also served as assistant secretary for housing and federal housing commissioner in the Clinton administration, as well as chair of Habitat for Humanity International. He has been honored with numerous awards for his contributions to the field and was inducted into the National Housing Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Affordable Housing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Through his tenure at the JCHS and engagement with PAB, Retsinas understood that creating a senior faculty position to lead the JCHS would be essential to strengthening the policy connections between academia and industry.

“Nic and Joan Retsinas’s catalytic commitment to endow this position formally elevates the GSD’s decades-long shared history with the JCHS,” says Sarah M. Whiting, dean of the GSD and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture. “We are proud to cement the GSD’s enduring partnership with the Joint Center for Housing Studies in a way that reflects our shared values and dedication to the intersection of housing studies and design.”

Understanding Housing in America

Research from faculty, staff, and graduate and doctoral students across Harvard inform a range of working papers, reports, news, and media from the JCHS. This interactive map, for example, shows national and local data on the income required to afford a median-priced home in different parts of the United States.

Key Research Areas

The JCHS focuses on eight categories in its work to advance housing issues in the U.S.:

Housing Markets & Conditions
JCHS’s annual report on the housing market provides comprehensive analyses of new and existing home prices and sales, rents and vacancy rates, construction and improvement spending, and financial market indicators.

From highlighting racial disparities in homeownership rates to exploring climate change in housing policy, the JCHS examines changing patterns of homeownership at the national and metro levels.

Rental Housing
More than a third of U.S. households rent their homes. The JCHS analyzes key trends and issues related to the changing nature of demand and the government policies that affect the supply of market-rate and subsidized units.

The JCHS’s Remodeling Futures Program studies trends in the remodeling industry, including changes in the types and costs of projects that homeowners undertake, such as energy-efficient products, healthy homes, and smart home technologies.

The JCHS focuses on the demographics of the older population, the supply of housing available to adults with functional limitations and disabilities, and affordability issues.

The JCHS documents the housing cost burdens that both renters and homeowners face and analyzes the complex interrelationships among household incomes, housing prices, and the market dynamics driving affordability trends.

Demographics & Projections
The JCHS documents how underlying demographic shifts—in particular, the growing diversity and changing age structure of the population—shape the type, quantity, quality, and location of housing.

Neighborhood Change
The JCHS looks at factors that influence the geographic location of households and contribute to patterns of neighborhood change and residential segregation.