March 21, 2016


The Call to Grapple With Housing Affordability 

As a boy growing up in New York City's Upper West Side and West Village neighborhoods in the '60s, I kept my lunch money in my shoe and witnessed a cops and robbers shootout at a Western Union on Broadway.
I returned to live in the Upper West Side four decades later. These days, the neighborhood is safer, sure, but it's absurdly expensive. The high cost of living means the area lacks a true middle class, which I was part of growing up. There is fleetingly little diversity, and none of the street energy I knew playing handball against the pre-war buildings when I was a kid.

Manhattan's Upper West Side: picturesque but increasingly out of reach. Flickr: Bosc d'Anjou

The neighborhood I called home is no longer a place where the son of a second-generation professor of American literature at the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and a third-generation aspiring actress could live. And it's certainly not an affordable place for my aspiring-actress daughter and most other young people without a trust fund or relatively rare job in a high-wage industry.
New York's housing affordability problem has steadily crept outward from Manhattan to encompass the entire region. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted, 80 percent of those residing in the New York metro area said the high cost of housing was one of the area's most serious problems. 

New York is not alone. It's among a growing number of economically powerful cities that face a crisis of affordability and inequality. This crisis threatens to choke off the very factors that drive these cities' success.
Cities thrive because diverse, ambitious, talented people intersect in ways that foster innovation and opportunity. City scholar Edward Glaeser puts this case in the strongest possible terms when he writes, "The strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization's success and the primary reason why cities exist."
If diverse, talented people cannot afford to come here or stay here to find opportunity and make their mark, cities like New York will lose their vital edge. That's why it's so important, from the perspective of both fairness and smart economics, to make sure great cities tackle the problem of housing affordability.
At the same time, policies that affect our housing and our neighborhoods also affect our daily lives. The public has a personal stake in housing policy. It should also have a voice.
Over the next year, Public Agenda will conduct research to understand where the public stands in the search for bold solutions to housing affordability in New York. We will share these findings with policy and decision makers so they make choices grounded in and informed by the will of the public. And we will create materials that communities can use to better understand, discuss and act on the issue themselves.
To kick off this project, we hosted a panel discussion in early April with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, NYC Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development Vicki Been, New York Community Trust's Patricia Swann and New York University's Steven Pedigo. You can read a recap of the event on our blog, where we'll also post regular updates about our progress.

Do you worry about keeping our cities affordable and sustainable engines of innovation and progress for all its residents? You can support Public Agenda's efforts to elevate the public's voice on housing solutions by making a tax deductible donationYour donation will help us do this work at the scale needed to make a real difference! 

Will Friedman
President, Public Agenda

In Memoriam: Shirley Hufstedler and Lester Thurow

Two members of our Policy Review Board in the '80s and '90s passed away earlier this month. Their dedication to and impact on Public Agenda will always be remembered.

New Resources

This report summarizes major activities and outcomes of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) between March 2015 and March 2016. *CBEN is currently hosting a conference in Santa Fe, NM. Follow along with #CEBNConvening

Questions Financial Aid Professionals Should Ask About Competency-Based Education Programs: A Resource Guide
Developed by the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), this resource helps financial aid professionals address these questions and best support competency-based innovations. 

The questions raised in this document will ensure institutions have the technological systems needed to launch and scale sustainable competency-based education (CBE) programs on their campuses. 

Also developed by the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), this resource helps higher-education professionals better understand definitions and terms related to the academic calendar. 

News and Commentary

Allison Rizzolo reflects on a recent community meeting where residents voiced their concerns about a development project in their backyard. 

The public's voice on tax policy is at best ignored, at worst coaxed to extremes. In this blog post, researcher Chloe Rinehart looks at public opinion data to find American's true feelings about taxes.

Americans Don't Associate Price with Quality in Health Care
A new analysis of our 2015 survey data on price transparency provides good news for experts: most Americans do not associate the price of health care with the quality of that care.
Nicole Hewitt reflects on her work in Moss Point, Mississippi and how that experience shaped content for a recent a workshop on Democratic Skills for Public Leaders.

Here are some ways cities around the world have tackled housing affordability. Would these work in New York City, or in the city where you live? Let us know what you think on Twitter with #BoldNYC.
Tiffani Williams writes that, given the role higher education plays in the larger framework of economic prosperity, it is and will remain crucial for us to examine and research the ways institutional practices can impact gaps in workforce and wage equality.
Some disagreement and disruption is needed to open up the potential for better possibilities to take shape. However, we also need a unifying vision and program based on a coherent public judgment about how America should address its great challenges in order to make agreement possible again and sustain progress over time, writes President Will Friedman. 

PA in the News
The State of New York Housing Affordability in 2016
(StreetEasy, Thursday, April 21, 2016)

Finding The Path To Student Success 
(Community College Week, Tuesday, April 12th, 2016)
(Inside Higher Ed, Monday, April 11th, 2016)

(Kaiser Health News, Friday, April 8th, 2016)

(Healthcare Informatics, Wednesday, April 6th, 2016)

(HFMA, Wednesday, April 6th, 2016)

New website helps patients comparison shop for health care 
(The Boston Globe, Sunday, April 3rd, 2016)

The Payment Reform Landscape: Where We Started On Transparency Tools And Where We Need To Go 
(Health Affairs, Thursday, March 31st, 2016) 


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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