Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Vincent Reina

Originally posted at USC Price, March 30, 2015
by USC Price Staff

Vincent Reina is a Ph.D. student in Public Policy and Management at the USC Price School of Public Policy. His research interests are primarily in housing and urban development, and his current research focuses on the affordability of rental markets and the effect of government interventions in the housing market on household mobility and welfare.

Reina’s extensive professional experience includes interning for Americorps at the “I Have a Dream” Foundation; working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and serving as a research fellow at NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Reina received his B.S. in urban studies from Cornell University, MSc in comparative social policy from the University of Oxford, and MBA with a concentration in economics and real estate from New York University.

Can you describe your scope of professional work, and how it sparked your research interests?

My interest in housing began as an Americorps Intern at the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, where I worked with youth who lived in public housing in NYC. That summer, I received a powerful firsthand introduction to the importance of housing and access to high-amenity neighborhoods, and how access means more than proximity. That experience fueled my interest in learning more about the government’s role in housing.

After college, I worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and then at a Community Development Financial Institution, called the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, where I underwrote financing for housing and community development projects across the country. There was pressure to measure success in those jobs, and the primary measure used was the number of units financed in a year because it is easily quantifiable. After a while, I began to think about other measures of success, and whether my work improved the welfare of the households who lived in these properties and the financing I underwrote was an efficient use of public and private resources.

I was given the opportunity to take a three-year full-time research fellowship at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, which provided the ideal platform for me to begin exploring these questions. At the Furman Center, I managed the development of a publicly accessible database of all subsidized properties in NYC, while also working on research. It was there that I realized I really like research, and that I needed to pursue my Ph.D. to develop the skills necessary to conduct rigorous research that improves our understanding of housing markets and the effectiveness of housing policies.

Given your breadth of professional experiences, what led you to come to the USC Price School?

I came to Price for two reasons. I spent a lot of time trying to find more than one or two professors at a university that I would be happy to study under when researching programs. At Price, there were at least five people who I knew I would be honored to have as my advisor. On top of that, it was clear from all of my communication with faculty and staff at Price, and then from the admitted students’ event, that everyone here really cares about the students.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a student?

One of the most rewarding parts of being a student at Price is the level of interaction I have with my advisers. You often hear stories about doctoral students who barely know their advisors, or whose advisers only care about getting the data work they need out of their students. That is not the case at Price.

For example, I developed independent study classes, and have regular research meetings, with both Raphael Bostic and Gary Painter. For my first two years, I was also a part of a reading group that was led by Richard Green and attended by three of my fellow doctoral students. Finally, Marlon Boarnet and others at Price have helped me refine my research questions and improve my methods both in and out of the classroom.

My advisers, and the faculty at Price more broadly, consistently challenge me to be a more thoughtful researcher and give me the tools to meet that challenge. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I can already see how much they have shaped my thinking, and I am very grateful for that.

What do you hope to achieve – what impact do you hope to make – after going through the Price Ph.D. program?

I hope to have a career where my research informs our understanding of housing markets and the impact of housing interventions and results in more effective policies. I also hope that my teaching will empower students and gives them the skills to be critical thinkers who shape and implement urban policy.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far through your experiences at the Price School?

I think one of the many important lessons I learned is that if a question seems easy to answer, then you may not be thinking hard enough about the answer. I have also learned that most native New Yorkers have the wrong impression about L.A.; it is a city, and a really complex and great one, particularly for those of us interesting in urban economics and policy (although I am still searching for a good everything bagel).