woman entering RV under threatening skies

RV Life as an Affordable Housing Option

Urban Planning Professor Adam Millard-Ball spoke to Florida public media outlet WUFT about the growing number of people who live in RVs by choice or necessity. Housing research into the estimated 1 million Americans who live full-time in RVs has focused more on people pursuing a highly mobile and leisurely “Van Life” than on stationary, low-income residents, the article noted. “Some people like the nomadic existence, but for many people it’s the lesser of two evils,” Millard-Ball said. “It’s better than couch surfing or being in a tent.” Large urban centers can support this option by converting excess space on public roads and in parking lots into areas with access to basic utilities such as water hookups and garbage collection, where residents of campers and RVs can live legally. The average residential street is more than twice as wide as the functional minimum of 16 feet, Millard-Ball’s research shows, and some of that extra space could be used to accommodate housing.

two youths smiling

New Protections for LGBTQ+ Youth in Foster Care

UCLA Luskin’s Bianca D.M. Wilson spoke to LGBTQ Nation about a federal policy enshrining new protections for children in foster care. The rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires that state and tribal child welfare agencies provide safe and appropriate placements for LGBTQ+ children and youth, who are overrepresented in foster care and face high levels of bullying and harassment. “They experience threats to their well-being and mental health as well as increased risk of not ending up in permanent homes,” said Wilson, an associate professor of social welfare. “LGBTQ youth are more likely to age out of the system without [ever being placed] in a permanent home. So they not only experience hardship within the foster care system but the most difficult route out of it.” The federal rule cites several studies conducted by Wilson, whose research explores the relationships among culture, oppression and health.

man sitting in tall grasses next to street

On Involuntary Commitment and Informed Consent

A Wall Street Journal article about a Los Angeles lawyer’s slide into psychosis and homelessness called on Social Welfare Professor David Cohen for insights on effective paths of mental health care. The article described a conundrum for society: how to balance the rights of individuals who may not feel they need any help with a desire to protect their basic physical and mental health. California is one of a number of states that have expanded laws allowing involuntary commitment for reasons other than violence. But evidence that civil commitment helps people recover is lacking, and many doctors are too quick to use medication to subdue patients, Cohen said. “We try to deactivate people with antipsychotic drugs,” he said. “We’ve lost the art of trying to figure out how to tackle this with the person in front of us.” Cohen also spoke to the Wildflower Alliance about the professional and moral obligation to obtain informed consent from patients.

Lawsuits Throw Shade on L.A.’s Long-Awaited Bus Shelters

A Los Angeles Public Press article about the delayed installation of thousands of bus shelters and hundreds of shade structures throughout Los Angeles cited Jacob Wasserman of the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin. Although approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2022, the 3,000 bus shelters and 450 shade structures have been held up while a number of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuits are pending resolution. This type of delay is not unusual, according to Wasserman, a research program manager at ITS, noting that transportation projects such as new rail lines are often delayed by CEQA lawsuits. “It is often done by the vocal minority of people who don’t want a project — a housing development or a transit line. And I think it’s complicated,” he said. CEQA lawsuits are also a way for residents to challenge gentrification and displacement in their neighborhoods or force negotiation with developers, Wasserman pointed out.

multi-unit apartment buildings

Jumpstarting California’s Plan to Build Affordable Housing

UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen and Aaron Barrall co-authored an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about what California can do to make real progress on its ambitious goal to increase the supply of affordable housing. Despite a raft of well-intentioned laws, executive actions and lawsuits, progress thus far has proved more symbolic than substantial, and certainly “insufficient to improve affordability and stem population losses driven by the high cost of living,” wrote Monkkonen, a professor of urban planning and public policy, and Barrall, a housing data analyst at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. The authors list specific land-use regulations and policies that must be toughened if the state is to meet its goals — including a crackdown on wealthy or recalcitrant enclaves that have stalled affordable housing developments. “While these cities dawdle, the region’s residents suffer the effects of the housing shortage: high rents, overcrowding, eviction and homelessness.”

Akee on Lack of Data on Financial Situation of Native Communities

Randall Akee, professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin, commented in a Marketplace report about a Federal Reserve annual survey that provides information about the financial situation of U.S. households. While the survey reports, overall, that a majority of respondents indicate they are doing “OK” financially, it provides no information about American Indians and Alaska Natives. The survey showed that racial and ethnic gaps persist, with Black and Hispanic respondents reporting lower levels of financial security compared to white and Asian American respondents. However, data on Native communities was not sufficient to compare rigorously with other groups. Akee said other measures track with what researchers know about lower average incomes, limited employment opportunities and poor credit access in many Native communities, but limitations such as small sample sizes can exclude up to 60% of respondents. “You have to be creative in thinking about, OK, the perfect data doesn’t exist. However, how can I get close to that?” Akee said.

Man sitting outside as part of news footage

Mukhija on Putting L.A.’s ‘Graffiti Towers’ to Good Use

Scripps News spoke to Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija about the partially built high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles that were covered by floor after floor of graffiti earlier this year. The tagged buildings, part of a planned luxury complex abandoned years ago after funding dried up, stoked a national debate over development priorities, including how governments can put abandoned or vacant properties to good use. “The problem does seem to exist that there are too many hurdles for the local government to come in, acquire this project — not leave it empty, stalled for five years — and build something more socially beneficial out of it,” Mukhija said. “This should be an opportunity to make it into the kind of housing we want more than luxury housing. If there’s any housing we want more than luxury housing, it is affordable, non-market-rate housing.” 

Using Technology to Make Public Transit Safer

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the possible use of facial recognition technology and fare gates on the LA Metro system following a recent fatal stabbing and other attacks taking place on public transportation. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board has asked Metro staff to explore various measures to increase security across the vast citywide system. Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning, noted that cities across the country are dealing with crime on public transit and trying to find ways to make transportation safer. Technologies like facial recognition may raise privacy concerns, she said, suggesting that the use of fare gates and Metro transit ambassadors could help. “Transit environments are really very open environments. Everybody can get in and enter, and if you try many of these measures, you put delays into the system,” she said. “The public is not going to like it. So it’s a dilemma.”

portrait photo of Michelle Dennis wearing glasses and a dark top

Dennis Proposes Giving Citizens More Say in How Their Taxes Are Spent

Writing for the National Civic League, UCLA Luskin lecturer Michelle Dennis draws on her decades of experience in local government to advocate for a new democratic mechanism she calls a Participatory Assembly for Budgeting, or PAB. Dennis’ idea would combine two innovations — participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies — into a new model that would give citizens a meaningful say in how their tax dollars are spent. In participatory budgeting, community members have a vote on the use of public funds. The citizens’ assembly model involves selecting citizens to represent the diversity of a community, then bringing them together to deliberate and make recommendations on policy decisions. Dennis details her idea in a step-by-step manner and cites clear benefits: increased public trust, a citizen voice in decision-making and services that better match people’s priorities. “A PAB has not yet been implemented by a city,” Dennis concludes. “What city will be the first?”

parking meter on a city street

Allow Housing Projects With Zero Parking? Shoup Says That’s a Good Thing

In Los Angeles and other parts of California, thousands of new apartments are being developed with little to no on-site parking, causing neighbors to worry about an influx of new renters fighting for existing parking spots. That worry may be short-sighted but it’s understandable, UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup told LAist. “We all want to park free — including me,” said Shoup, an urban planning professor. “The problem with parking requirements is that in some cases the required parking is so expensive that the developer never even thinks about proposing a development.”  That is changing in part because of a 2022 change to state law that no longer requires housing developers to provide parking for apartment buildings within half a mile of a major public transit stop. As Shoup has long said, such parking requirements can increase construction costs to an extent that it limits the type of housing that can profitably be built on expensive urban land, thus discouraging new projects. Shoup also spoke with Colorado Public Radio about similar reforms in Colorado.

outdoor portrait of man in light-colored shirt

Akee on Increased Voter Participation, Civic Engagement

A voter guide posted by the Indiana Citizen mentions research by UCLA Luskin’s Randall Akee on voter participation. Individuals in higher-income households are more likely to vote than those in poorer households, and the article cites Akee’s speculation that having a larger income may afford families resources like time and transportation to make voting easier. He collaborated on a 2018 study on the effect of a permanent increase in household incomes among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Although increased income did not change the voting behavior of parents, their children subsequently went to the polls at a higher rate. This could relate to educational attainment. “This suggests that income augmentation programs that help children may have other indirect (and long-term) benefits to society in the form of increased political participation and civic engagement as adults,” Akee wrote in the study.

pie chart

Quality of Life Index Sheds Light on L.A.’s Housing Burden

News media across Southern California covered the 2024 UCLA Quality of Life Index, an annual survey that this year found deep dissatisfaction with many aspects of life in Los Angeles County. “It’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet in L.A.,” survey director Zev Yaroslavsky told ABC7’s Josh Haskell. “This is the lowest rating we’ve ever had in the nine years we’ve been doing this survey.” A Los Angeles Times article focused on the nearly 4 in 10 renters in the county who have worried about losing their homes and becoming homeless in the last few years. Yaroslavsky also spoke to Spectrum News 1 about flagging confidence in government efforts to address the region’s homelessness crisis. “We discovered very little optimism about whether the current programs and efforts to eradicate homelessness will work,” he said. Other news outlets covering the Quality of Life Index include KCAL, KTLA, FOX 11 News, Good Day LA, KNX, La Opinión and City News Service.

Subway entrance in disrepair

Loukaitou-Sideris on Making Transit Hubs More Welcoming

Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of UCLA Luskin, spoke to WHYY about efforts to restore confidence in the SEPTA public transit system serving the Philadelphia area. Financial pressures have delayed infrastructure projects to improve safety and accessibility on the system’s aging subway network, and some riders say they are anxious about recent episodes of violence. Loukaitou-Sideris, an authority on transit safety who studied SEPTA during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the openness of transportation hubs is a mark of both inclusivity and inherent risk. “If we all start getting afraid of agoraphobia and not going to these public spaces, we will end up in a cocoon of private spaces,” she said. Loukaitou-Sideris added that she is encouraged by Philadelphia’s Hub of Hope, a space within the SEPTA system where unhoused individuals can receive essentials such as food and medical care.

car in drive-thru at McDonald's

Reframing Perspectives on Who’s Helped, Hurt by Minimum Wage Hikes

Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly spoke to news outlets about the impact of California’s new wage law on fast-food chains as well as smaller businesses. The law sets a $20 minimum hourly wage for fast-food workers at chains with 60 or more restaurants nationwide. But the impact is also felt by local ethnic restaurants and other small businesses, which must compete to retain workers. “These grassroots businesses are part of the glue that holds communities together, and they’re what give the community an identity,” Tilly told the Los Angeles Times. He also spoke to USA Today about the wage hike’s effect on consumer prices and hiring practices. “The big critique of minimum wages is ultimately it’s a job killer, that it hurts the people that you’re trying to help,” but data from the last three decades has not shown those effects, Tilly said. “We do have to think about how to help people. But to do that by hurting other low-income people doesn’t seem like the right strategy to me.”

car lights in heavy traffic at night

Congestion-Pricing Ambitions Slowed by ‘Internal Trepidation’

A Wall Street Journal story about legal challenges to a plan to launch a congestion-pricing zone in parts of Manhattan in June cited Michael Manville, chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin. Pending litigation could delay the start of the program, which would charge passenger vehicles $15 during the day and $3.75 at night to enter the zone, with higher tolls for trucks. Many businesses and commuters argue that the program, approved in 2019, is ill-timed because communities continue to struggle in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congestion-pricing zones have been successfully launched abroad, and transit advocates had hoped that New York’s program would spur action in other U.S. cities. But in places including San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, momentum has slowed. “I would say it’s at a bit of a standstill,” Manvile said. “What’s happened in California, and particularly Los Angeles, is internal trepidation.”

front of elementary school with signs expressing encouragement

Accusations of Negligence in Shooting by 6-Year-Old

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to the Washington Post about legal repercussions from the 2023 shooting of a Virginia teacher by her 6-year-old student. A grand jury indicted a former assistant principal with eight counts of felony child abuse, and the injured teacher has filed a $40 million suit against the school district, alleging negligence on the part of administrators. The former assistant principal is accused of disregarding at least three teachers’ warnings that the first-grader might be carrying a gun. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago people could say, ‘I wasn’t educated. I didn’t know this could happen. I thought the kid was too young to have a gun,’” Astor said. “But in this day and age with all the data, reporting and training, it’s really problematic for a vice principal not to follow up on these warnings.” In another Washington Post story, Astor said that Americans are frustrated by the political impasse over proposals to restrict access to guns and are “just exhausted” by the bloodshed.

For sale sign in a yard in front of a house