Jim Stockard: the 2014 Loeb Lecture

In the 9th annual Loeb Lecture, Loeb Fellowship curator Jim Stockard brought the audience to its feet in the way he knows best: with common sense, creativity, and compassion. In  “Affordable Housing: It’s Just (A) Right,” the outgoing curator offered a moving set of remarks about the future of affordable housing in the US, challenging the GSD community with a poignant question: “What kind of nation do we want to be?”

In his introduction, GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi spoke to Jim’s unwavering popularity, “his posture of care and trust” in the school, and happily dubbed the evening a “Jim Stockard love fest.” Since he began as curator in 1997, Jim has guided a diverse ensemble of over 170 Loeb Fellows and Affiliates through their time at the GSD. With the audience full of Fellows, alumni, GSD students and supporters, Dean Mostafavi also took a moment to welcome the incoming Fellowship class of 2015, assuring them that following Jim’s retirement in August, “we will take care of you.”

Stockard continued the legacy of the annual Loeb Lecture as a moment of reflection and reconsideration of the profession for a standing-room-only crowd in Piper Auditorium. He delivered a talk perfectly suited not only to his life’s work in affordable housing and expertise as a GSD faculty, but more fundamentally his passion for social justice. His address was seasoned with the wisdom he has brought to his many professional and personal roles: fellowship curator and advisor, colleague and collaborator, faculty and friend.

True to his love of learning, Jim used the lecture as an opportunity to take on the same challenge he has frequently posed to the Loeb Fellows: “Visualize the ideal world that you’re working towards.” Year after year, his explanation is straightforward: “If you don’t, you’ll settle.” Following suit, Jim spoke of a world in which “every resident of the United States would have the right to a decent, affordable home in a safe, attractive, and convenient neighborhood.” To achieve this vision he outlined a clear and incisive set of policies and programs, ranging from the practical to the radical and local to federal. As he detailed his steps towards the ideal world, he offered programmatic changes to property management, policy changes for metropolitan governance, and a dramatic restructuring of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as we know it.

Among many examples, Jim cited the need for a strategic focus on management of public and affordable housing units, with standards that create consequences for failure, a consideration “rarely seen in the affordable housing world.” Policy initiatives ranged from the radical and economic, such as to “eliminate the ownership of rental housing for profit,” to a sharp focus on governance and the need for “federal government to step into land use regulation.” No matter the scale of the recommendation, Jim constantly reminded the audience of students and professionals of the importance of perspective, emphasizing that “we need to focus our thinking on homes, not units.”

Even more compelling than Jim’s vision for housing is his way of threading compassion through what can often seem to be a political or economic question. He brought the issue to the level of the personal, encouraging the audience to carefully consider the experience of homelessness for a child, or the myriad challenges for families frequently moving from place to place. He constantly asked, “What makes sense for our families?” approaching the need for affordable housing not only with the expertise and edge of a practitioner, but the tenacity and tenderness of a parent.

In all of Jim’s recommendations rests a firm belief in the fundamental importance of human rights, and the need to chart a path toward universal recognition and realization of housing as a right. While he duly recognized the gravity of substandard housing in the United States, Jim took care to acknowledge the energy and promise embodied in the expansion of citizen’s rights that we have witnessed within the last generation. His optimism was clear and directed pointedly to his audience, identifying the group as “people of substance and influence” and the “next generation of thinkers.”

As was fitting for the evening’s celebration of the Loeb Fellowship, Jim’s charge was not simply a call to action but a call to leadership, summoning the room full of fellows and supporters to “change the wind.”

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