Meet Keir Matthews-Hunter: A PhD Student Studying Housing, Land Use Planning, and Real Estate Development

November 20, 2023 by Department of Geography & Planning
In this spotlight, we'll delve into Keir's academic path, research interests, and the experiences that have shaped his trajectory.
Keir, could you enlighten us about your program and the specific areas you specialize in?
I am in the PhD in Planning program and studying under the supervision of Professor Alan Walks. My research interests concern the interplay between housing, land use planning, and real estate development, with a focus on the economic motivations and constraints that lead real estate developers to delay residential development (particularly after securing planning approvals) and/or flip entitled sites for profit without building. Empirically, I am investigating the degree to which land use (de)regulation – in its different forms and levels of stringency – mediates developer (un)certainty about the profit-maximizing use of land and impacts development timing.
What sparked your interest in this specific research focus?
My professional work at the City has informed my most recent research interests. Through the review of development applications, I observed a trend of developers securing approvals to redevelop lands with high-density residential uses, and then selling those lands at a profit or strategically waiting to construct the development and maximize its payoff. This observation, of course, was made in the context of deepening housing affordability pressures and mounting political rhetoric about planning as ‘red tape’ encumbering the supply of housing. I was also neck-deep in the academic literature on housing and land use regulation (LUR) outside of work, and felt that a lot of academics working in this area lacked a solid understanding of how LUR and planning approvals work in practice. I decided the time was ripe to pursue my PhD and engage in this debate academically while drawing on insights from professional practice.
The Blanche and Sandy Van Ginkel Graduate Fellowship is an impressive accomplishment. How do you envision it shaping your future goals?
As part of this fellowship, I will be delivering a public presentation on my research at the Munk School of Global Affairs in the spring of 2024. This presentation will be based on preliminary analyses of data that I am collecting for my dissertation. Dr. Enid Slack of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance has informed me that we will jointly prepare for the public presentation and that these presentations are usually well-attended by academics and professionals alike. In this respect, I look forward to working with Dr. Slack and presenting my work to a broad and informed audience, and receiving constructive feedback and questions that will strengthen my research.
Reflecting on your Master's in Science in Planning (MScPl) experience, how did it pave the way for your current pursuits?
The MScPl program was my formal introduction to planning as a profession and academic discipline. I was attracted to the program for its array of courses, distinguished faculty, progressive orientation, and location within one of North America’s leading geography departments. I was fortunate enough to take courses in land use planning, real estate development, and housing, and acquired hands-on experience through different internships. These courses and the opportunity to work on different projects like the City’s multi-tenant houses strategy and short-term rental regulations were instrumental in shaping my academic and professional focus on housing.
Your time at the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) - how did it shape your perspective and contribute to your current research?
My position at CUI was my first job out of planning school. Engaging in practical, solutions-oriented research on different housing projects, such as a rental market listing analysis for the City Planning Division and the Toronto Housing Market Analysis for the Affordable Housing Office, expanded my understanding of Toronto’s housing market. The knowledge and experiences I acquired from my time at CUI directly inform my ongoing research.
Your tenure at the City of Toronto - how did it equip you for your current research endeavors?
My position at the City, with its focus on housing policy (including a strong emphasis on rental housing demolition and replacement), has been fundamental in equipping me for my current research. I have conducted housing policy research and analysis, drafted policy planning reports, made recommendations to City Council, and represented the City at mediation hearings of the Ontario Land Tribunal. My experience has expanded my understanding of how residential developments are reviewed and improved by municipalities, how developers operate and interact with municipal staff, and how municipal and provincial politics intersect with planning in real life.