Identifying real estate opportunities in a volatile world

Kaitlyn McQuown • March 15, 2024
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The USC Gould School of Law 2024 Real Estate Law and Business Forum drew hundreds of real estate professionals to hear from Suzanne Nora Johnson, Chair of the USC Board of Trustees and Chair of Board of Directors at Intuit, Inc., as well as other industry experts, to explore real estate trends and changes due to recent legislation.

Presented in partnership with the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate for the first time, the one-day continuing legal education event took place February 29 at the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles as well as online. The Forum is co-chaired by Susan Booth, Partner at Holland & Knight LLP, and Glenn Sonnenberg (BA 1977, JD 1980), Executive Chairman at LaSalle Debt Investors.

In her luncheon keynote, Johnson outlined the role of USC in the local and national economy, the Trojan alumni network and free speech issues on campus.

“It’s critical that our universities in particular are a bastion of a place where there is free speech, where people can have very different views and that they can respect and say things to each other in respectful ways,” said Johnson. “That doesn’t mean that it’s to change minds, but it’s literally to have a forum where people can express opposing points of view and that they learn how you do it in a respectful way.”

The forum began with a comprehensive overview of the current state of the real estate economy, with sessions that provided an analysis of the economy and forecasts pertinent to Southern California, as well as a session on the ethics of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and how they can either address or compound existing gaps in housing and wealth across demographics.

In “Ethical Implications and Applications of New Technology in Real Estate,” Richard H. Harvey Jr., EVP, GC & Director of Compliance Risk at Beneficial State Bank, warned that generative AI will perpetuate bias and discrimination if trained on systems that have historically shut out groups of people, particularly people of color, from access to capital.

“Generative AI can help get us there, but it’s not going to help us on its own — it has to be human intervention,” said Harvey.  “We have to be cognizant of the fact that if there is already bias in the system, then generative AI is just going to have that bias in its outcomes.“

Panels throughout the day provided an overview of recent developments unique to the state and Los Angeles, and a vision for the future, including the city’s plans for transportation initiatives ahead of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Marlon G. Boarnet, professor and director, USC METRANS Transportation Consortium at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, addressed concerns that increased infrastructure projects may cause increased displacement in low-income neighborhoods through the lens of a Price study of the LA metro rail stations.

“Had we never built a rail system, there would still be a really big displacement problem in these neighborhoods. I think it really highlights that the bigger issue is the underlying housing crisis,” said Boarnet. “Let me summarize in one sentence what I think we ought to do: we’ve got to build more [housing].”

The morning session, “How Do Statewide Changes in Land Use Law Matter to Municipalities?” brought together Elizabeth Carvajal of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and Richard K. Green of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate in a conversation led by Fernando Villa of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

The panel discussed the fallout of legislation, pending Land Use litigation, what attorneys can keep in mind as they handle their clients’ concerns and the barriers to creating more affordable housing in the midst of a housing crisis in the state.

“It’s about ensuring that we have a consistent funding to support housing production and really evaluating the housing element process to ensure that it’s set up to allow jurisdictions to participate and meet their obligations under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) [and other legislation],” said Carvajal on the process of creating more affordable housing.

Concurrent breakout sessions throughout the day offered attendees a deeper look into shifts in real estate, including the status of office space in the wake of the pandemic, how hotels can bridge the housing gap, and the consequences of recent local legislation impacting real estate like Measure ULA, otherwise known as the mansion tax.

The Real Estate Law and Business Forum, founded in 2003, is widely recognized as Southern California’s premier gathering of real estate professionals. The forum is a leading platform for industry experts to discuss local and national issues shaping the real estate landscape.

USC Gould School of Law offers continuing legal education opportunities for professionals who want to learn and network with leading experts in their industries. A fixture of the Los Angeles legal community since 1948, USC Gould Continuing Legal Education hosts six annual conferences for professionals at every level to learn from, and network with, the biggest players in entertainment, estate planning, business, tax and intellectual property. To learn more, visit or subscribe at – and follow on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn

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