Great Conversations forum focuses on future of affordable housing

Kevin McCahill

Tonight some of the top minds on the subject of affordable housing will meet to discuss the future of the hot-button issue.

Ann Forsyth, director of the University’s Metropolitan Design Center, will talk with Nicholas P. Retsinas, director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, as part of the College of Continuing Education’s Great Conversations events at 7:30 p.m. in Ted Mann Concert Hall.

The conversation coincides with the Home House Project being shown at the Weisman Art Museum, which focuses on affordable housing ideas.

Margy Ligon, executive producer of the conversations, said tonight’s event will fit in well.

Ligon asked Forsyth whom she would like to talk with on the affordable housing debate, and she chose Retsinas.

“He really understands the combination of forces that is making affording housing less and less available,” Ligon said.

Retsinas has been named one of the 25 most influential people in real estate by the National Association of Realtors and is also a member of the National Housing Hall of Fame.

He also worked for the Federal Housing Commission under former President Bill Clinton.

Forsyth said now is an important time to discuss housing.

“The housing market, particularly in attractive areas like the Twin Cities, go through a process where housing in locations that are attractive get quite expensive, and that causes issues,” she said. “That drives the cost of housing up.”

Forsyth said the exhibit at the Weisman is useful in discussing housing solutions.

“They are pretty arty but have some big ideas,” she said.

At the forum Forsyth and Retsinas will discuss the state of housing and ways to create more affordable housing.

She cited government subsidies, less expensive construction and lower land prices as options to reduce prices, although she said these aren’t the easiest to get into action.

“Most students are worried about affordable housing,” Forsyth said. “Business students should be worried about housing their work force, sociology students (should be) interested in cities that house all kinds of people.”

Colleen Sheehy, director of education for the Weisman, said she was glad to see that the conversation will take place.

“We’re really pleased that such a high-visibility event could be linked to the exhibit,” she said.

Sheehy said the event will give people a better understanding of the big picture of what is going on.

“It makes a dry topic very accessible,” she said. “It’s like a dinner conversation, just a really informed one.”

The College of Continuing Education is producing the series, which began in 2002. More than 23 conversations have been had since its inception.

“It’s a way to highlight the faculty at the University and research being done on timely topics,” Ligon said. “These are issues we are dealing with in our lives.”

The event, Ligon said, would be great for students who will have a chance to see their professors show their knowledge.

“They have been an amazing resource,” Ligon said. “They get to see the quality of their own faculty in a very different way.”

As a first for the conversations, the event will be recorded and available for download at www.cce.umn.edu/conversations.

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $23.50 for University students, staff and faculty members.