News - Writing a Thesis: Two Students Dig In
Hell and Freedom
Summer has a characteristic tempo at the Center for Real Estate, though it is certainly not slow, just different. Professional development courses bring hundreds of real estate professionals to campus. Graduate students are busy with thesis work during June and July. Some students find thesis work isolating and uncomfortable. Others appreciate the freedom to set their own schedule. Ethan Bernstein is one of those, appearing in the student lounge from time to time to meet classmates and go out for some socializing.
His thesis is a study of the "time-share vacation ownership industry", a topic suggested by the hospitality firm he worked for before coming to MIT and to which he will return. The first part of the thesis work, literature review and data acquisition, leaves room for a social life as well. Ethan is gathering his data through interviews with industry leaders from a cross-section of the bigger firms and the smaller, independent operators. He intends to compare and contrast their views and practices to see how big a difference branding may make.
The second part of the thesis is the writing. Ethan expects that to be more intense,. "It may mean two weeks of hell at the end, but so be it," he says. A competent writer, Ethan has confidence based on his past term papers. He has already started writing up some sections of the thesis from an extensive outline and feels that he is on track to get done on time. "I'm being realistic about the scope of what I can accomplish," he says. For him, the thesis process has been rewarding. "It's a period of self-reflection and self-motivated work. You have the freedom to use your creativity and manage your own time, and you get out of it what you put into it. It's definitely a positive experience."
Debunking the Myth
The last week of July is hell week for some thesis writers as they feverishly put final touches on their texts and chase down their advisors for final read-throughs and signatures. A few are done before the last minute, and with jobs waiting in the wings are happy to buy a round in the traditional end-of-term class get together.
Emily Weinstein is one of these fortunate ones. She is a joint degree student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning as well as in the real estate program so her thesis had to meet the requirements of both programs. It is entitled Irrational Market: Facts and Fiction Behind Affordable Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Using her pre-MIT experience as an assistant project manager at affordable housing developer BRIDGE Housing, as well as a lot of new research, she explored the widespread belief that affordable housing has a negative impact on surrounding housing values. This belief contributes to the community opposition developers face when they try to permit new affordable projects. It increases costs and delays production. To research the thesis, Emily studied three Bay Area multi-family, rental, affordable housing developments located in neighborhoods of owner-occupied single family homes, the "most controversial cases which often engender the greatest opposition." She did a quantitative analysis based on a housing price model she developed under the supervision of her advisor, housing economist Henry Pollakowski, tracing housing sales trends before and after the introduction of the affordable housing development both for an 'impact area' close to the development and a wider 'market area'. She found that following the introduction of the affordable housing both the impact areas and the market areas had almost identical levels of price appreciation. In two of the three cases, prices in the impact areas actually rose faster than in the wider market area over certain periods of time. Emily concludes that "The claim that affordable housing leads to property degradation and decreases housing prices is fictitious. Debunking this myth at a local level is a necessary step in finding a regional solution to the affordable housing crunch throughout the Bay Area." Emily will be working at The Community Builders in Boston, starting in the fall.