Roy on Repeated Displacement of L.A.’s Unhoused Population

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke with Spectrum News 1 about the sweep of an encampment of unhoused people on Aetna Street in Van Nuys. The sweep was part of the city of Los Angeles’ “Inside Safe” initiative, which aims to rapidly move people living in encampments indoors. Some Aetna residents who accepted hotel placements have reported dealing with sub-par conditions and strict rules, complaints echoed by other “Inside Safe” participants, KCRW’s Greater L.A. reported. Without a pathway to permanent housing, the participants could soon be back on the street, said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “Our concern about the kind of repeated displacement is that people end up more precarious than before,” she said.


Essays Capture Legacy of L.A. Historian Mike Davis

The journal Human Geography published a collection of essays curated by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning to honor author, activist and Los Angeles historian Mike Davis. Ananya Roy, the professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who directs the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, wrote an introduction to the collection, which arose from a convening of L.A. scholars at the Luskin School a few months after Davis’ death in October 2022. As Roy writes, “the gathering continued late into the evening as scholars of different generations, from distinguished professors to undergraduate students, celebrated all that we have each, and collectively, learned from Mike Davis.” The essay collection emphasizes that while Davis “saw and found struggle in the many terrains of catastrophe that he analyzed so prophetically,” he was neither a pessimist nor a defeatist. Roy’s essay “A political autopsy of Liberal Los Angeles” also appears in the collection, along with “Planetarity and environmentalisms: the invention of new environmental histories from the Ecology of Fear to Victorian Holocausts” by urban planning professor Susanna Hecht; “The poet of L.A.’s urban” by urban planning professor Michael Storper; “Old school socialist” by UCLA history professor Robin D.G. Kelley; “To Los Angeles: United in Grief, United in Struggle” by post-doctoral scholar Deshonay Dozier; and “Lessons in accumulated rage and rebellious scholarship” by USC professor Juan De Lara.


A Closer Look at UCLA’s Own ‘Justice League’

They come from everywhere — unapologetic revolutionaries and leading voices in causes across the spectrum of social justice. They seek resources and space to recharge, regroup and, often, to plan the next stage of their struggle — all while planting seeds to grow the next generation of activists. Recently profiled in UCLA Magazine, they are part of the university’s Activist-in-Residence program, launched in 2016 by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D). The program has hosted 11 activists, including four this year, with areas of expertise that include tenants’ rights, food insecurity, climate change, support for incarcerated people, ethnic storytelling and protection for the unhoused. “Their presence transforms our classrooms and our research centers,” said Ananya Roy, founding director of II&D and a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “It’s this shared terrain of scholarship across universities and movements that we see to be very fertile ground for making change.” Other campus hosts include the Asian American Studies Center and cityLAB-UCLA. The magazine piece includes mini-profiles of five of UCLA’s Activists-in Residence.

Read the full story


International Investigators Hear From People Who Have Experienced Homelessness

On March 1, the Spatial Justice Community Collaborative class under the direction of UCLA Luskin Professor Ananya Roy joined with the Promise Institute for Human Rights to host the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Soledad García Muñoz, special rapporteur on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. During a presentation that built on research by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, six presenters affiliated with the class talked about their lived experiences, including the time some had spent living in homeless encampments such as one at Echo Park Lake that had been forcibly cleared by law enforcement two years earlier. García Muñoz and her colleagues, Daniel Norona and Paul Mora, then asked questions and spoke about the importance of such interactions to their mission to investigate allegations of human rights throughout the Americas. García Muñoz also viewed an altar that was built by the class to honor the large number of preventable deaths of unhoused residents in Los Angeles. And she engaged in conversation with panelists such as Jennifer Blake, whose artwork focuses on uplifting people like herself who have experienced homelessness.

View photos on Flicker

Community Collaborative hearing


Housing Inequality Is So Entrenched It Could Spark a Movement Scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says establishing a human right to shelter may seem utopian but is long overdue

By Mary Braswell

At the outset of her appearance before a UCLA audience, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor made one thing clear: The United States is not in the midst of a housing crisis.

“ ‘Crises’ are interruptions in the status quo, and housing precarity is a permanent feature of U.S. society,” said Taylor, a leading scholar of social movements and racial justice.

It was a semantic distinction that pointed to a formidable challenge: What can be done to dismantle a housing system that Taylor said has been hijacked by corporate interests, turning the family home into a hedge-fund commodity traded on the international stage?

“What we’re seeing is the deep marginalization of the socially useful purpose of housing as a dwelling … turned into an asset to be bought and sold, an asset that is mostly valued as a thing, not as a place to live,” Taylor said.

But she assured the audience that the arc of history that led to this harsh 21st-century reality also holds lessons on how to establish a human right to decent shelter.

Taylor shared insights from her 2019 book “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. The professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University has also received accolades that include a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Her newest enterprise, as co-founder of Hammer & Hope, a magazine exploring Black politics and culture, launched just hours before her standing-room-only appearance on Feb. 15 as part of the UCLA Luskin Lecture Series, in partnership with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Taylor warned against oversimplifying the solution to housing insecurity. Raising wages just to make sure people can afford exorbitant mortgages and rents, for example, only perpetuates a corrupt system.

While the racial wealth gap is real, she said, “it is often used as a smokescreen to blot out the larger dimensions of extraordinary housing inequality and insecurity.”

Today’s housing system takes a toll not just on the Black community, which has endured generations of racist policies in the real estate industry, and not just on the nation’s poorest, those living outdoors or struggling to pay rent for substandard shelter.

“We’re talking about half of the United States living with rent burden, paying 30% of their income toward rent, and more than a quarter paying half of their income toward rent,” Taylor said. “This housing economy is like roller skates with no stops on a steep hill on the top of a mountain. … There are no brakes on any of this, and every year, it’s getting worse and worse and worse.

“And so I think it becomes the basis upon which to build a different kind of a movement.”

Taylor recalled pivot points in U.S. history when tenants rose up to demand change and governments enacted tough regulations to curb “the worst impulses of capitalism.”

She spoke about the promise of current efforts, including the Green New Deal for Public Housing and alternative solutions such as co-ops and community land trusts.

“Such proposals might have once seemed utterly utopian,” she said. “They now feel long overdue.”

Following her lecture, Taylor shared the stage with scholars Cheryl I. Harris of UCLA Law, Marques Vestal of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The dialogue continued the following day when Taylor met with grassroots organizers at the Los Angeles Community Action Network in downtown’s Skid Row.

“We see an economic system that is incompatible with housing security and housing justice,” Taylor said at the lecture. “And so that raises another question about what kind of world we want to live in and the struggle that is necessary to produce it.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor LLS

Watch a recording of the lecture on Vimeo.


Latest Cohort of 4 Activists-in-Residence Is Largest Ever UCLA's cityLAB, Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Asian American Studies Center will serve as on-campus hosts

UCLA welcomed an artist and three community organizers to campus on Jan. 31 during the 2023 UCLA Activists-in-Residence reception held at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

This year, four activists were selected, making this the largest cohort in the program’s six-year history. Steve Diaz and Josiah Edwards will be working with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017.

Diaz is deputy director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) based in downtown Los Angeles, and Edwards is a youth climate justice organizer who grew up in the South Bay area of L.A. County.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center returns to the residency program after a pandemic-related hiatus to host Melissa Acedera. The daughter of Filipino immigrants to Los Angeles, Acedera is a founder of two community-powered food systems helping feed unhoused and food-insecure communities across L.A. and Orange counties.

New to the Activists-in-Residence program this year is cityLAB-UCLA, which selected Marlené Nancy Lopez, a public artist whose work focuses on serving communities through muralism, storytelling and multimedia. She was born and raised in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Conceptualized as a sabbatical, the residency allows for time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. At the reception, each of the activists spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months.

Find out more about the activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

2023 Activists in Residence

A Worldly Perspective

Thinking beyond borders is an integral part of a UCLA education.

The commitment to international scholarship is even spelled out in the Luskin School’s strategic plan. It recognizes UCLA’s unique position as a public university situated “in the ‘world city’ of Los Angeles, a living laboratory for the far-reaching issues facing communities across the United States and around the world.”

Roughly one in five current faculty members at UCLA Luskin conduct research primarily with an international focus. Their scholarly contributions frequently appear in journals with a global orientation or get recognized in other ways.

Two men in academic robes present a canister containing a document to a woman in the middle

Professor Ananya Roy receives the Doctorat Honoris Causa (honorary doctorate) at the University of Geneva from Rector Yves Flückiger and Social Sciences Dean Pascal Sciarni.

For example, Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning and social welfare, traveled to Switzerland in October to receive a Doctorat Honoris Causa at the University of Geneva. An honorary doctorate is one of the highest academic honors one can receive.

“I didn’t have any ties to the University of Geneva,” Roy said after the ceremony, which was televised. “But as the faculty there reminded me, it will now always be my university.”

Some faculty efforts involve a pooling of resources. The Latin American Cities Initiative draws on Los Angeles’ ties to countries across the Americas to share knowledge about managing urban spaces. Directed by Paavo Monkkonen, professor of urban planning and public policy, the initiative known as Ciudades hosts seminars and conferences and conducts an international planning studio in Latin America that immerses students in real-world case studies.

And the Global Lab for Research in Action focuses on hard-to-reach populations around the world through a social justice lens. Manisha Shah of public policy leads the research, which seeks remedies for the health, education and economic needs of women and children.

A global focus is also found in many L.A.-based efforts, both new and ongoing.

In summer 2022, social welfare students and scholars hosted the International Summer University in Social Work, during which colleagues from around the world explored theories and practices that promote justice. More than 20 participants from four continents came to campus for a two-week exploration of topics such as racism, the wealth gap, gender bias and homelessness.

Last spring, the Luskin School hosted a virtual Global Mini-Summit as part of its signature Luskin Summit policy dialogue series. Discussions are underway to expand this concept into an ongoing series focused on international concerns.

Plus, numerous alumni now hold positions in foreign governments or work in agencies or businesses with an international mindset.

Several stories in this edition of Luskin Forum take a closer look at the ways UCLA Luskin is bringing a global perspective to issues of public concern.

Right to Housing

At a time of mass homelessness, deepening tenant precarity, and the criminalization of poverty, housing justice movements are pushing for a right to housing in California. In this convening, current and former UN Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing provide insight and guidance on key elements of such a right, how such a right can be informed by an international human rights framework, and how such a right can become an actionable government obligation. In conversation with prominent housing justice leaders, they will take up questions such as: What does the right to housing mean for those without a right to recognized housing, notably unhoused communities? How can the right to housing address the effects of global financialization on housing markets and housing systems? Is there a vision of social housing that can be a core part of such a right? How might the right to housing remake highly unequal relations of property and land?

Featuring UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Adequate Housing:
Leilani Farha, 2014 – 2020
Balakrishnan Rajagopal, 2020 – 2026
Raquel Rolnik, 2008 – 2014

With commentary by:
Gary Blasi, Tenant Power Toolkit
Clarissa Woo Hermosillo, ACLU Southern California
Christina Livingston, ACCE
Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network

Chaired by:
Ananya Roy, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

Roy on Cold Exposure Deaths of Unhoused People in L.A.

Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy spoke to The Guardian for a story about 14 unhoused individuals who reportedly froze to death in 2021 in Los Angeles. Despite L.A.’s reputation of year-round sunshine and warm weather, the story cites data showing that hypothermia fatalities have been on the rise in recent years, exceeding the rate in San Francisco and New York City combined. The story also references a report by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which tracked deaths of people who were unhoused during the COVID-19 pandemic, and which found that Los Angeles County shelters — while open during cold periods — are not always accessible. “Each time people go through this cycle and are sent back to the streets, they’ve lost social networks and personal belongings, they’ve often had to give up pets or been separated from loved ones, and so they return more vulnerable,” said Roy, director of the Institute.

Roy on L.A. Ban on Homeless Encampments Near Schools

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke to the New York Times about the Los Angeles City Council’s decision to prohibit homeless people from setting up tents within 500 feet of public and private schools and day care centers. The new law, passed on a vote of 11-3, would bump the number of banned sites from 20 to 2,000, one councilman estimated. “It’s not an effort to alleviate poverty. It’s an effort to manage visible poverty and get it out of sight,” said Roy, a professor of social welfare, urban planning and geography. As more people begin living on the streets, “liberal cities are doing everything in their power to get around Martin v. Boise,” she said, referring to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2018 ruling that prosecuting people for sleeping in public amounts to cruel and unusual punishment when no shelter beds are available.