The International Housing Finance Program was founded in 1985 as a collaborative effort of faculty from different schools of the University of Pennsylvania to improve housing finance expertise in developing countries and stimulate international knowledge sharing in housing finance and housing policy. The founding faculty members were Marja Hoek-Smit, Jack Guttentag and Anthony Santomero of the Wharton School of Business and William Grigsby of the Fels Center of Public Policy.

Developing- and emerging market countries, that undergo rapid urbanization and population growth, face worsening housing conditions. One critical reason for the mass housing problems is the lack of effective and sustainable housing finance systems. Without access to mortgage finance, developers cannot enter the affordable housing market. Government resources alone are insufficient to deal with the housing problem. Many examples exist of successful housing finance systems, but solutions are not easily transferable and have to be tailored to the economic and institutional realities in different countries. Effective and impartial knowledge sharing about the principles and practice of housing finance is needed to assist countries in this process of expanding access to housing finance.

The University of Pennsylvania has strong Urban, Housing Policy and Housing Finance expertise. IHFP faculty combined their skills to establish a housing finance education program build around three interconnected activities:

  • Executive Education for senior private and public sector officials, both at the Wharton School of Business and in specific countries or regions
  • Housing Finance Education Development at professional and academic institutions in developing countries
  • Policy Advising and Research


In January of 1986, the first International Housing Finance Course was offered, with a comprehensive curriculum that included a global overview of different housing finance systems, the fundamentals of lending and funding systems, lending instruments, risk management and regulation, and policies to reach down-market. It has been offered annually ever since, with regular adjustments in length and content to reflect needs of participating institutions and financial sector innovations and trends. Participants in the program are professionals from public and private sector housing and finance institutions in emerging economies and developing countries and international agencies.

  • Regional and Country courses: From the outset there was demand for housing finance courses tailored to the needs of specific countries or regions. The Program has delivered courses in more than 40 countries in Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Special courses have also been developed for international agencies such as the World Bank, The Inter-American Development Bank, and Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, IHFP develops workshops for international clients on specific topics such as financial risk management, design of mortgage instruments, capital market instruments and securitization, the regulation of housing finance markets, and finance-linked subsidies.


The second pillar of IHFP’s activities has been its support to Universities, Professional Associations’ and Central Bank Training Institutions to establish and strengthen their housing finance education programs. IHFP has educated faculty from many educational institutions, assisted in the development of relevant housing finance curricula, and co-taught courses with local faculty at their home institutions, including in India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Brazil, Mexico, Zambia and South Africa. This effort led to a long-term partnership with Cape Town University (CTU), South Africa, to teach an annual, joint Wharton – CTU housing finance course for participants from Sub-Saharan African countries.


The third pillar of the program is advising and research. IHFP faculty has worked in more than 75 developing and advanced economies on housing and housing finance related issues, for public and private clients and international agencies—see under Faculty.

IHFP faculty conduct international housing and housing finance research and are frequent speakers at conferences. Some published articles, books and lectures that are in the public domain are provided under the research tap and on the HOFINET website.

IHFP established the Housing Finance Information Network or HOFINET, the first comprehensive international data collection exercise in housing finance.  International housing finance data has not been systematically collected, which in turn explains the lack of research in this field. HOFINET collects standardized, quality controlled, longitudinal data on the housing finance sector of some 140 countries, and makes the data publicly available on a web-portal – www.hofinet.org. The portal also posts up-to-date analysis of core housing finance topics by senior experts. In addition,  IHFP/HOFINET assists countries in establishing their systems of housing market and housing finance data collection.