The University of Chicago offers a variety of classes related to housing:


Understanding the Built Environment

Katherine Fischer Taylor

This course aims to equip students with the basic skills and knowledge needed to analyze the built environment. Through weekly seminars that are paired with practical labs on architectural writing and drawings, class visits to buildings and exhibitions, or meetings with practitioners, it explores a variety of themes from the material design of the building itself to its urban, social, cultural, and historical significance. These themes include how building designs accommodate their uses and users; how they resist physical forces like gravity, wind, earthquake; the potential of traditional and new materials; cultural questions of style and symbolism; contextual relationships to site and surroundings; technological infrastructure in architecture, such as climate control, power, and computation; and buildings as historical objects that change over time. Students practice their skills in an analytic project on a local building or urban site of their choice.


Real Estate and Equity: Leveling the Playing Field

Ernst Valery

This course involves an in-depth exploration and analyses of the lack of equity and how we can work to develop a new reality in real estate development, one that does not displace people and values diversity and inclusion in order to create healthy communities. To start, to develop without displacement sufficient housing must be available for existing residents. One possible solution, and the one that is the focus of this class, is to assemble adjacent parcels so that new taller and denser development can be constructed. Admittedly not without its own controversies, this scenario envisions new residential units designed to meet the needs of existing residents and owners, as well as providing additional workforce housing and adding market-rate renters. Existing landowners can enter their properties into long-term leases with the developer ensuring a continual income stream while retaining ownership of the property. In addition to housing options, these developments offer ground floor retail that provide amenities for residents and contribute to neighborhood vibrancy and diversity. An influx of population can support new retail and increase available jobs. In this way development can be a catalyst that benefits all members of the neighborhood.

Real Estate Investments I

Joseph L. Pagliari

This course is designed to familiarize students with real estate equity investments – primarily from the perspective of institutional investors (e.g., pension funds, investment advisors, private equity, REITs, life insurance companies, etc.) with allocations to “core” property types. Accordingly, much of the course’s emphasis will be placed on various types of financial modeling used by these investors to evaluate their real estate investments. The course will also emphasize the multi-disciplinary setting (e.g., accounting, business law, economics, finance, mathematics and statistics) in which real estate operates. 

Real Estate Investments II

Joseph L. Pagliari

This class is intended to be an extension of Real Estate Investments I (Business 33450) and, therefore, is designed to examine more complex real estate issues and problems. More specifically, this course in intended to: a) provide you with a perspective on the “structuring” issues related to real estate equity investments, b) invoke the multi-disciplinary setting in which complex real estate transactions take place, and c) move beyond the “core” property types. 

Social Impact Lab

Ghian Foreman and Christina Hachikian

This class will explore community development as a practice, including better understanding both the inputs and outputs of the work. Professor Foreman is fond of saying: “Wealth is the byproduct of solving problems and creating value. If you do these efficiently, you create a high rate of return.” The challenge is that the typical approaches to generating high rates of return – whether it’s starting a business or a real estate development project – often do not translate directly in communities that have faced a history of disinvestment, population loss, and poor infrastructure development. Further, to achieve success in community development you have to deliver higher rates of return not just to investors, but to the community and individuals as well. 


Introduction to Urban Sciences

Luis Bettencourt

This course is a grand tour of conceptual frameworks, general phenomena, emerging data, and policy applications that define a growing scientific integrated understanding of cities and urbanization. It starts with a general outlook of current worldwide explosive urbanization and associated changes in social, economic, and environmental indicators. It then introduces a number of historical models, from sociology, economics, and geography that have been proposed to understand how cities operate. We will discuss how these and other facets of cities can be integrated as dynamical complex systems and derive their general characteristics as social networks embedded in structured physical spaces. Resulting general properties of cities will be illustrated in different geographic and historical contexts, including an understanding of urban resource flows, emergent institutions, and the division of labor and knowledge as drivers of innovation and economic growth. The second part of the course will deal with issues of inequality, heterogeneity, and (sustainable) growth in cities. We will explore how these features of cities present different realities and opportunities to different individuals and how these appear as spatially concentrated (dis)advantage that shape people’s life courses. We will show how issues of inequality also have consequences at more macroscopic levels and derive the general features of population and economic growth for systems of cities and nations. 

Urban Geography

Michael P. Conzen

This course examines the spatial organization and current restructuring of modern cities in light of the economic, social, cultural, and political forces that shape them. It explores the systematic interactions between social process and physical system. We cover basic concepts of urbanism and urbanization, systems of cities urban growth, migration, centralization and decentralization, land-use dynamics, physical geography, urban morphology, and planning. Field trip in Chicago region required.


Fair Housing

Lee Fennell

This course will focus on the law and policy of fair housing, broadly construed. Substantial attention will be devoted to antidiscrimination laws in housing, including the federal Fair Housing Act. We will also explore existing and proposed policies for improving access of lower-income people to housing. The causes and consequences of residential segregation will be examined, as well as the effects of zoning and other land use controls. Additional topics may include gentrification, eviction, squatting, mortgages and foreclosures, the siting of locally undesirable land uses, and the use of eminent domain.

Housing Initiative Transactional Clinic 

Jeffrey Leslie

The Housing Initiative Transactional Clinic provides legal representation on complex real estate development projects to build affordable housing. Clients include nonprofit, community-based affordable housing developers and housing cooperatives. 

Students serve as deal lawyers, working with clients and teams of professionals—such as financial consultants, architects, marketing professionals, property managers, and social service providers—to bring affordable housing and mixed use development projects to fruition. Projects range from single family rehabs with budgets in the $30,000 to $75,000 range, to multi-million dollar rental and mixed use projects financed by low income housing tax credits, tax exempt bonds, TIF, and other layered subsidies. Students also counsel nonprofit clients on governance and tax issues related to their work. 

Poverty and Housing Law Clinic

Lawrence Wood

In the Poverty and Housing Law Clinic, students learn how to defend low-income tenants (many of whom have disabilities or young children, or are victims of domestic violence) against unwarranted evictions. Many of these tenants live within just a few miles of The Law School. They will attend weekly lectures about subsidized housing programs, eviction actions, trial practice, housing discrimination, the intersection between domestic violence and housing, and the extensive and often misunderstood connection between criminal law and subsidized housing. Students will work twelve hours a week in the Housing Practice Group at Legal Aid Chicago, the Midwest’s largest provider of free civil legal services to the poor. 

Real Estate Transactions 

Andrew Small

Real Estate Transactions will focus on the lawyer’s role in structuring and negotiating investments in commercial real estate. The course will explore legal and related business issues encountered when acquiring, selling and financing commercial real estate investments, including through mortgage and mezzanine debt and will also focus on “joint ventures” and other capital aggregation vehicles. For many reasons it is typical today for an investor to own real estate with one or more other investors in a joint venture. Our goal in the course is to provide you with an understanding of how an attorney can be most effective in negotiating and documenting sophisticated real estate transactional agreements. Students will learn to look at the motives, goals and roles of each party to a transaction and to make sure that the legal structure most efficiently accommodates the client’s business objectives.

Public Policy

GIS Applications for Public Policy

Ned English

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) refers to tools and techniques for handling, analyzing, and presenting spatial data. GIS has become a powerful tool for social sciences applications over the past thirty years, permitting lines of scientific inquiry that would not otherwise be possible. This course provides an introduction to GIS with a focus on how it may be applied to common needs in the social sciences, such as economics, sociology, and urban geography, as distinct from physical or environmental sciences. Students will learn basic GIS concepts as applied to specific research questions through lectures, lab exercises, and in-class demonstrations. Examples of the kinds of topics we will pursue include how we can use GIS to understand population trends, crime patterns, asthma incidence, and segregation in Chicago. 

Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Seminar in the Political Economy of Urban Development

William Sites

This seminar develops the conceptual basis for understanding and addressing urban problems within a political economy framework. Drawing from an interdisciplinary literature on cities, the course introduces a range of analytical approaches to the economic and political forces that shape urban development, including the capitalist economy, governmental institutions, city/suburban divisions, machine/reform dynamics, urban land markets, regime politics, economic globalization, and social movements. Particular attention will be given to the relationship between politics and markets in generating urban growth, employment, real-estate development, housing, and neighborhood revitalization, as well as poverty, urban decline, racial exclusion, educational inequality, and residential displacement. The course examines a number of strategies to address problems at multiple levels of the urban system, including federal urban policies, decentralized planning and localism, electoral mobilization, political advocacy, public-private partnerships, social entrepreneurialism, arts/cultural/entertainment strategies, and regionalism.


Cities, Space, Power: Introduction to Urban Social Science

Neil Brenner

This lecture course provides a broad, multidisciplinary introduction to the study of urbanization in the social sciences. The course surveys a broad range of research traditions from across the social sciences, as well as the work of urban planners, architects, and environmental scientists. Topics include: theoretical conceptualizations of the city and urbanization; methods of urban studies; the politics of urban knowledges; the historical geographies of capitalist urbanization; political strategies to shape and reshape the built and unbuilt environment; cities and planetary ecological transformation; post-1970s patterns and pathways of urban restructuring; and struggles for the right to the city.

Sociology of Urban Planning: Cities, Territories, Environments

Neil Brenner

This course provides a high-intensity introduction to the sociology of urban planning practice under modern capitalism. Building upon urban sociology, planning theory and history as well as urban social science and environmental studies, we explore the emergence, development and continual transformation of urban planning in relation to changing configurations of capitalist urbanization, modern state power, sociopolitical insurgency and environmental crisis. Following an initial exploration of divergent conceptualizations of “planning” and “urbanization,” we investigate the changing sites and targets of planning; struggles regarding the instruments, goals and constituencies of planning; the contradictory connections between planning and diverse configurations of power in modern society (including class, race, gender and sexuality); and the possibility that new forms of planning might help produce more socially just and environmentally sane forms of urbanization in the future.

Urban Structure and Process

Marco Garrido

This course reviews competing theories of urban development, especially their ability to explain the changing nature of cities under the impact of advanced industrialism. Analysis includes a consideration of emerging metropolitan regions, the microstructure of local neighborhoods, and the limitations of the past American experience as a way of developing urban policy both in this country and elsewhere.