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Meet Steven Bourassa

CBE Runstad Department of Real Estate’s new chair shares what drew him to the role and what excites him about the future.

On August 8, Steven Bourassa joined the College of Built Environments as the Chair of the Department and the Jon and Judith Runstad Endowed Professor.

Throughout his career, he has led programs that combine real estate development, housing, and planning, at institutions in the US, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition to leading the department, Steven will build on and elevate the Runstad department’s research strengths in housing prices and tenure, land tenure, and property taxes. His most recent work includes collaboration with finance and planning scholars on the use of big data in housing valuation.

Steven joins us from Florida Atlantic University, where he was the Chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

CBE Marketing & Communications recently spoke with Bourassa about his background, passions, and plans for the department.

What drew you to this role and the College of Built Environments?

Moving from one leadership role to another across the country, I was interested in challenging myself in my field and focusing my research more on real estate.

I liked the fact that the Runstad Department of Real Estate is housed in a college that has a full range of built environment disciplines – this makes it possible for the program to have a broader scope and cover more ground than might be the case in other settings, where the focus might be limited to finance and economics. Our college gives real estate students the opportunity to take courses and work with faculty and students from other built environment disciplines, giving them the kinds of interdisciplinary interactions that many will experience in their careers. The college also provides a supportive home for the department’s emphasis on aspects of housing – including homelessness, affordability, and equity – that might not fit so comfortably in a different institutional context.

What excites you about the future of the department/college?

As a new department, there is considerable room for growth and innovation. The department has developed and changed a lot in recent years and now is the time to step back and engage in some strategic thinking about where it wants to be in the future. So, developing a strategic plan is a major priority. Related to that, integrating the Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER) into the department is also a top priority as it will expand our research capacity and output.

Also, the Runstad Advisory Board is a real asset that provides significant support to the department that will help us to meet our potential. The college’s emphasis on equity, diversity, and inclusion provides a good context for the department’s work on topics such as housing affordability and homelessness, issues that directly affect our local communities. Research and expansion within these areas provide students with the opportunity to explore real-world and local issues from a classroom perspective, while simultaneously creating change in their local communities through field experience.

I envision the department as one that has a high profile regionally, nationally, and internationally, and am excited to be a part of executing this vision.

What inspired your interest in real estate and urban design and planning?

I have a longstanding interest in the quality of the built environment – with quality defined broadly to include equity, sustainability, aesthetics, and functionality – and how that can be enhanced through policy making and planning. These relationships between urban design, planning, and policy can have significant effects on the actions of real estate developers and others who are actively engaged in building new environments.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges facing real estate education today?

One main challenge is making sure the curriculum is up-to-date with respect to constantly developing industry needs, including advancements such as data science techniques and new technological applications (“PropTech”). Another challenge for real estate educators is understanding the cyclical nature of economies and real estate markets and, in turn, translating that knowledge to benefit students and communities..

Tell me about your plans to continue your research at UW.

My research focuses mainly on aspects of housing, and recently I have been focusing on house prices, both at the metropolitan level (in regard to what causes price fluctuations over time) and at a micro level (with respect to variations in prices across properties and neighborhoods within a city.) I expect to continue this work, with some focus on the Seattle region. I am currently working with colleagues on a study of the impacts of walkability on house prices, and we now plan to include King County as one of our case studies.

What lights your fire?

Producing graduates who become leaders in the field really makes me proud to be an educator, especially when I am able to see the progression from students to industry leaders over time. As a researcher, I get a lot of satisfaction from producing research that helps us to understand real estate markets and is relevant to the needs of policymakers and industry. Finally, I am excited by the opportunity to play a key role in guiding the development of the Runstad Department.

Where does the UW sit within the constellation of its peers and the industry?

UW is highly respected both nationally and internationally. While the real estate program is less well known, it is extremely well positioned to develop its national and international contributions and reputation.

The Pacific Northwest is an important center for the real estate industry, housing the headquarters of some key players such as Zillow and Redfin, among other assets. Our position gives us the advantage of being able to leverage our location and local industry partners to continue building the department and our programs.

How do you view the role of the academy as a partner with the private, public, and NGO sectors in grappling with the challenges we face?

Department faculty and the WCRER are actively engaged in working with these sectors to address major issues such as housing affordability and homelessness. Incorporating WCRER into the department and expanding its activities will help Runstad to address these and other community challenges more effectively. In collaboration with private, public, and NGO sectors in the community, the department’s role will be to continue to expand research and data provision relevant to key challenges.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I love to swim for exercise and have been swimming regularly since I was in graduate school, so I was quite disappointed when I found out that the university’s pool is closed for an extended period for renovation! Coming from Florida, finding places to swim will be a bit of a challenge but will encourage me to explore the city more!