Roy on Failed Promise of Project Roomkey

Ananya Roy, executive director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke with KNX1070 about Project Roomkey, a program designed to provide temporary shelter in hotels and motels to Los Angeles’ homeless population. Critics of the program, launched in Los Angeles at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, cited draconian conditions, including early curfews, a lack of privacy and harassment by staff. To demand changes at Project Roomkey sites, as well as shelters across the region, several members of the unhoused community have organized under the banner United Tenants Against Carceral Housing. Roy said she was once an advocate of Project Roomkey but has become more critical after seeing the program in action. Elected officials are wasting public resources on a “shelter shuffle” and have “turned temporary housing like Project Roomkey into the most dehumanizing, prison-like housing,” Roy said. “People are not better off and they’re clearly not more safe.”

Roy on the Roots of L.A.’s Housing ‘Disaster’

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, appeared in an Al Jazeera English documentary about Los Angeles’ crisis levels of housing insecurity, which grew starker during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With stay-at-home orders came a public realization about who could stay at home,” Roy said. “And I think one of the things that’s become very evident in the United States is the failure at all scales of government to protect communities and households that are vulnerable.” The film follows homeless families who take great risks by moving into vacant houses and highlights the work of advocacy groups including the Reclaimers, Moms 4 Housing and the Los Angeles Community Action Network. A fast-growing rent-wage gap has deepened the crisis, Roy said. “Housing has become a commodity, by which I mean that what matters is not whether people are housed or not. What matters is the profits to be made on housing that is traded in the marketplace.” 

Urgent Action Needed as Housing Crisis Deepens, Roy Says

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke with the podcast Today Explained about the urgent need for housing solutions. Looming evictions will force millions more from their homes, she said, possibly triggering the nationwide proliferation of squatter settlements like the Echo Park encampment recently cleared by Los Angeles police. “That, I think, should wake the country up because all of that is avoidable, all of it can be changed if the right policies are put into place at the right time,” Roy told the podcast, beginning at minute 18. She called for the cancellation of rent debt, regulation of the corporate acquisition of residential property and the vast expansion of low-income housing stock. Roy also spoke with Grist about Los Angeles’ emphasis on addressing homelessness through policing, saying it has criminalized some aspects of the search for shelter. Grist also cited urban planning Ph.D. student Hilary Malson, whose research focuses on housing justice.

Roy on Need for Bold Policy Solutions for L.A.’s Housing Crisis

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke to KPFK’s “Living in the USA” program about Los Angeles’ crisis levels of housing insecurity. Roy protested the Los Angeles Police Department’s recent dismantling of a homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake. The action violated CDC guidelines calling for a halt to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as international housing standards and protocols set forth by the United Nations, she said during the broadcast, beginning at minute 23. Roy called on Los Angeles’ leaders to take bold steps to tackle the crisis, including canceling rental debt and providing stigma-free social housing. “Not only do we have 70,000 people who are unhoused, we know that when the eviction courts reopen later this year, which they will, thousands more will be evicted and there is no place for them to go,” Roy said. “What, then, is that policy vision? What is the plan?” 


 

Luskin Summit Breaks Down Housing Injustice

A UCLA Luskin Summit webinar on the exacerbation of housing injustice and mass evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic drew a virtual crowd of more than 400 participants. Moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, “The Threat of Mass Evictions and an Opportunity to Rethink Housing” was the third segment of this year’s virtual Luskin Summit series. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on housing injustice in Los Angeles, with hundreds of thousands of renters facing joblessness, debt and the looming threat of eviction. “When the pandemic is laid upon the current housing crisis, it becomes clear that going back to normal is not enough,” Lens said. “We need a renewed commitment to the subsidization of housing, and we need to allow more homes of all types to be built.” Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning and social welfare, noted that working-class communities of color bear the brunt of evictions. “As billionaires have accumulated massive wealth during the pandemic, renters have accumulated debt,” she said. Housing and community development consultant Sandra McNeill discussed the growth of the Community Land Trust movement, which uses a model of collective land ownership to combat systemic racism and gentrification. “We share a fundamental belief that land and housing should not be treated as a commodity but as a common good,” she said. Marques Vestal, incoming assistant professor of urban planning, argued that this is an opportunity to completely rethink housing policy governance. “If we’re going to talk about housing redevelopment, let’s get creative about it,” Vestal said. — Zoe Day


Research Guides Search for Solutions in Housing Crisis

A Streetsblog L.A. article on Project Roomkey, a program that repurposes vacant hotel rooms to provide 90 days of shelter for people experiencing homelessness, cited research from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. City and county officials in Los Angeles have struggled to meet their goal of housing 15,000 people through Project Roomkey. Their efforts received a boost when the Biden Administration announced it would reimburse cities for efforts to shelter the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. The II&D report Hotel California: Housing the Crisis” called for bold action including the use of eminent domain to shelter the unhoused. Professor Emeritus Gary Blasi of UCLA Law, one of the report’s authors, also spoke with the Associated Press about a court hearing, held at a Skid Row shelter, that was centered on Los Angeles’ response to the homelessness crisis. And II&D’s research on the looming threat of evictions in the region was cited on NBC’s Today Show.


 

Shedding Light on ‘How America Chose Homelessness’

Research from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) forecasting mass evictions and homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic was featured in the latest issue of the Nation. The pandemic amplified a crisis that dates back generations but was exacerbated during the 1980s, when social safety nets were dismantled in favor of trickle-down economic theories, said Professor Emeritus Gary Blasi of UCLA Law, one of the authors of the II&D research. In addition to immediate action to protect people forced from their homes during the pandemic, Blasi called for longterm solutions to address the structural causes of mass homelessness. “We could ramp up a wartime production of manufactured housing,” Blasi said. “It’s just a question of will and money.” In addition to the Nation cover story, “How America Chose Homelessness,” media outlets in the United States and abroad have highlighted II&D’s research to provide context to their reporting about the impending eviction and homelessness crisis.

Corporate Landlords Sought to Profit During Last Economic Crisis, Study Finds Residential property acquisitions by LLCs soared during the Great Recession in Los Angeles’ working-class communities of color

By Les Dunseith

A recently released research brief from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy draws fresh attention to the manner in which corporate entities have sought to benefit from an economic crisis by rapidly acquiring residential property in Los Angeles. 

The report builds on insights from several studies released during the COVID-19 pandemic by UCLA researchers that have found social and economic inequalities being reflected disproportionately in working-class communities of color. A significant percentage of residents in such communities face higher risk of unemployment, unsafe jobs, homelessness, and possible eviction and subsequent housing displacement. 

The report analyzes data on the Great Recession, finding that corporate control of residential property in many working-class communities with large Black and Latino populations expanded significantly in Los Angeles County between 2005 and 2015. The report also develops case studies that focus on different types of corporate landlords that have been active in Los Angeles in recent years and their varied strategies to profit from the acquisition of distressed residential properties.

The study seeks to examine the geography of racialized risk in Los Angeles by focusing on working-class communities of color with high rent burdens, grouping data from 20 at-risk ZIP codes into four regions: South Central Los Angeles, the Koreatown/Westlake area, the Hollywood/East Hollywood area, and a portion of the San Fernando Valley that includes Van Nuys and North Hollywood. 

Researchers focused on property acquisitions during the 10-year period in which the new owners are listed with the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor as limited liability companies, or LLCs. Residential unit acquisitions by such LLCs increased significantly in the four regions in the wake of the Great Recession, peaking in 2012. 

Referring to those acquisitions as “housing grabs,” the report finds that corporate control of residential property “is established and maintained through various strategies, including dominance in the single-family rental market, mass acquisition of foreclosed properties, destruction of rent-controlled housing, and running ‘eviction machines’ to displace tenants.”

“Who Profits From Crisis? Housing Grabs in Times of Recovery” is the title of the report issued Oct. 16 and written by Ananya Roy, director of the institute and a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography; tenants rights activist Terra Graziani MURP ’19; Pamela Stephens, a doctoral student in urban planning; and Joel Montano, MURP ’20.

“Housing grabs are enabled by policies of deliberate deregulation, which also extend to financial lenders and the banking industry,” the authors write in the report. “Rewarded through bailouts and government-sponsored securitizations after the Great Recession, these real-estate and financial actors continue to be enabled in their profit-making on crisis.”

The report argues that action by public officials is needed to protect rent-burdened tenants in communities vulnerable to housing grabs, especially amid the pandemic. “Otherwise, there will be mass displacement of an unprecedented scale.” 

A single property transaction can refer to the acquisition of a single-family home or an apartment building with several hundred units. The focus of the study was primarily on the number of units acquired through LLC transactions because the authors believe that figure best illustrates the scope of impact on a given community. During the period of study, data show a countywide increase in LLC transactions of 433% and a 121% increase in the number of units acquired. In 2015, for example, a total of 30,651 units were acquired through LLC transactions.

The four regions in the study have different housing stocks, the study notes, and thus a property sale in the San Fernando Valley, which has a higher share of single-family units, would likely have different meaning than would a sale in Koreatown/Westlake, which has significantly more high-unit apartment buildings. 

The largest number of unit acquisitions through LLC transactions in any ZIP code in any year of the period of study was 735, which took place in the 90005 ZIP code of Koreatown in 2012. The Koreatown/Westlake region also had a significant spike in 2015 when 665 units were acquired by LLCs in the 90006 ZIP code, which is Pico Union.

South Central Los Angeles had the greatest overall increase in unit acquisition, at 388%, during the study period. Unlike the other regions, South Central had a fairly steady increase in units acquired through LLC transactions between 2007 and 2010, with a sharp increase and peak in 2011. Acquisitions were on the downswing after 2011 until another increase in 2015. This region’s change in unit acquisitions was greatest by far in ZIP code 90016 (West Adams), rising 2,757%.

The average number of units acquired through LLC transactions increased 201% overall during the study period in the region of the San Fernando Valley that was studied. The highest number of units, 550, in that region changed hands in the 91601 ZIP code (North Hollywood) in 2009. 

The rise in units acquired in LLC transactions in the Hollywood/East Hollywood region was the least of the four at-risk regions studied, although still at 40% between 2005 and 2015. 

The study was released at a time when the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti were considering how to respond to a legal challenge from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to the city’s moratorium on renter evictions amid the pandemic. 

As director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Roy joined with Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge based at UCLA Luskin, in filing an amicus brief that argues against the landlord association’s effort to persuade a judge to issue a preliminary injunction that would suspend the moratorium on eviction for those renters who have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic.

“The proposed preliminary injunction threatens mass displacement in Los Angeles,” according to the amicus brief filed Oct. 9 in Los Angeles federal court. “Studies of COVID-19 impacts in Los Angeles show that most of this suffering will be concentrated in the city’s working-class communities of color, which are already bearing the burden of high infection and death rates.”

City leaders chose to fight back against the landlord association, and a U.S. District Court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 13, allowing Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium to remain in place.

Roy on the Intersection of Scholarship and Activism

Professor of Social Welfare and Urban Planning Ananya Roy was featured on a Quarantine Tapes podcast episode exploring the shared struggles of scholars and activists. Roy’s research focuses on the relationship between property, personhood and the police, as well as the ways in which inequality and power fixate in space. Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, explained how universities as elite institutions continue to reproduce racial harm and discussed her recent experiences calling for UCLA to divest from the police. “We’ve become very good at gestures,” she said. “We’re not very good at actually nurturing students and faculty who come from the communities most impacted by racial harm.” She argued that “we must challenge the university as an institution if we are to produce scholarship to accompany movements,” emphasizing the importance of journeying with and learning from the movements and communities on the front lines in a shared space of scholarship.


Roy on Rising Need Amid Government Inertia

A Civil Eats article on community-based food distribution efforts that have been overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic cited Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. To more efficiently bring food to the hungry, grassroots groups have begun to band together, building networks of farmers, grocers, lawyers, researchers, activists and nonprofits. Despite the creativity and coalition-building of charitable groups, strong government action is needed to provide meaningful relief for the alarming number of people in need, the article noted. “We’re starting to see an urban majority facing many kinds of insecurity, but the policies and programs people deserve are not going to arrive in time, and I have no idea how people are going to survive,” Roy said. “At all levels of government, inertia is very much driven by the fact that those who are going to get evicted and those who are already unhoused are politically unimportant.”