What They Learned: Clay Killoren ’24

For his thesis, Killoren chose to focus on affordable housing in San Francisco, one of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets.

As he steps into his career as a real estate analyst for OTO Development, a company focused on developing and managing hotels across the nation, Clay Killoren ’24 brings with him an intimate knowledge of the issues and opportunities surrounding affordable housing in one of the most expensive corners of the country.

Killoren’s thesis, “Addressing the Housing Crisis: A Blueprint for Building More Affordable Housing in San Francisco,” was inspired by the political science major’s deep concern for a broader national issue, he says. He chose to focus on San Francisco specifically due to its extraordinarily high cost of living and concerns for its swelling population of unhoused people.

“I was driven by a desire to find solutions to ease the burden on low-income families and prevent homelessness,” says Killoren, who was advised by Professor and Chair of Political Science Zach Oberfield. “Based on previous work I had done in internships and classes, I knew that I wanted to pursue something related to real estate and the political economy. We debated a few ideas, and Zach suggested I focus on a thesis that can make a difference.”

In San Francisco, Killoren says, affordable housing faces substantial challenges in cost, opposition from neighborhood groups, and a lack of shared vision among government agencies. To combat those obstacles, he focused on policies that could spur development, such as streamlining development timelines, widespread shifts in zoning, and a targeted land value tax.

“These policies have been implemented in cities worldwide, so I analyzed a few cities that have implemented these policies and seen success,” Killoren says. “Based on my research, I made a speculative assessment of how these policies would work if they were implemented in San Francisco.”

Killoren’s research revealed that a combination of zoning changes and development timelines would boost the city’s affordable housing stock and its overall housing supply. It’s a critical need there, he says, because San Francisco must build 82,000 housing units — with about 56% of them affordable — by 2031 to be in compliance with California’s mandated Housing Elements program. Killoren’s research also revealed that approximately 2.3% of San Francisco’s land parcels are vacant. That may seem like an insignificant number, Killoren says, but those parcels could provide a real opportunity for the city to expand housing.

“I interviewed an affordable housing developer, and he stated that creating developments with 60-80 units may not seem like a lot in terms of the number of units needed overall,” he says. “However, when a development comes to fruition, and low-income residents move into housing, it’s clear it’s worth the time and effort to make it happen. I think any addition to the affordable housing supply should be seen as a success and progress.”