II&D Study Cited in Reports on L.A. Plans to Aid Renters

News reports about a $100-million rent relief program passed by the Los Angeles City Council cited research by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) on the threat of mass evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief package is the largest passed by any U.S. city to help tenants pay their rent, according to the Los Angeles Times. It is more than three times as large as a relief program approved by L.A. County supervisors, who cited the II&D report. However, an L.A. Times editorial said the city and county programs are “woefully insufficient to meet the overwhelming need for serious and sustained housing assistance.” The II&D study estimates that tens of thousands of households in Los Angeles County could fall into homelessness due to the pandemic. The research was also spotlighted in an ABC 7 News report that laid out steps that renters can take if threatened with eviction.


 

UCLA Research Guides Debate on Evictions and Homelessness

UCLA research on the looming threat of eviction and homelessness in Los Angeles County is guiding debate about how to safeguard residents as the region attempts to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown. Recent studies from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), both housed at UCLA Luskin, have been cited by policymakers, civic leaders and advocacy groups. An II&D report authored by Gary Blasi, UCLA professor emeritus of law, estimated that tens of thousands of households in the county could fall into homelessness due to the pandemic. Blasi called for robust tenant protections, as well as urgent planning for temporary housing for those who lose their homes. His findings have been cited on the news and editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, as well as on NPR, CalMatters, Streetsblog and Capital & Main. In response to the pandemic, the California court system in April put a hold on eviction proceedings statewide. Despite these protections, some Los Angeles landlords have sought to remove tenants by force or coercion, creating a “web of urban inequality,” according to Paul Ong, CNK director and author of a study on rent burdens that was cited by the Los Angeles Times. As the court considered lifting California’s eviction moratorium, advocacy groups such as Disability Rights California and the pro bono law firm Public Counsel lobbied against the move by presenting research from II&D and CNK, among other sources. The court subsequently delayed its review of the moratorium.


Schoolwide Calls for Racial Justice

Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, voices from across the UCLA Luskin community have joined the conversation about systemic racism in the United States, shedding light on its roots and leading calls to move toward true justice. The insights have been shared near and far. Here is a sample: Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams told Asian news channel CNA that the wave of protest sweeping the nation has been “massive and powerful … and I don’t see it dying down any time soon.” Ananya Roy, director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has led faculty from across UCLA to stand in solidarity with communities of color and “continue the unfinished work of liberation.” To explain Los Angeles’ role in the current unrest, the New York Times cited the Quality of Life Index produced by the Los Angeles Initiative, which found deep bitterness over the region’s immense income inequality. Public policy lecturer Brad Rowe told local reporters he was encouraging his students to express their support for criminal justice reform. And social justice activist Alex Norman, professor emeritus of social welfare, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram: “For most African Americans, the American dream is a nightmare. … What will it take to change the narrative? What we don’t have, leadership, at the national and local level.”


 

New Study Warns of Looming Eviction Crisis in Los Angeles County A report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy predicts that as many as 120,000 households, with 184,000 children, could experience homelessness because of the pandemic

By Les Dunseith

Los Angeles will soon experience waves of evictions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Author Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law, closely and thoroughly examines the precarious state of housing for workers in Los Angeles County who are unemployed and have no replacement income in the time of COVID-19.

The report starts with the 1,198,141 unemployment claims filed so far in Los Angeles County during the COVID-19 emergency, a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression.

Historical experience and previous studies have consistently shown that only about two-thirds of eligible workers apply for unemployment insurance, which in this case means 599,000 additional workers in Los Angeles County who are now unemployed. Blasi said that unemployed workers may not apply for many different reasons, among them the fact that 13% of the county workforce is undocumented and thus ineligible for unemployment benefits.

“Even before the pandemic, the number of those who were precariously housed was shocking,” Blasi said. “About 600,000 people in Los Angeles County lived in households where 90% of household income was being used to pay rent.”

Based on census data, Blasi estimates that about 75% of workers with no income are renters, or about 449,000 individuals in 365,000 renter households unable to pay rent and with no replacement income, nearly all of whom he says will be displaced.

Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis and the unknown capacity of familial and social networks to save those evicted from homelessness, Blasi offers two estimates.  The most optimistic estimate is that 36,000 renter households, with 56,000 children based on U.S. Census figures for Los Angeles County, are likely to become homeless. If those support networks have been severely degraded by the pandemic, those numbers could rise to 120,000 newly homeless households, with 184,000 children.

Blasi notes that nearly all eviction cases, known as unlawful detainer proceedings, were stopped in early April by the California Judicial Counsel, the administrative arm of the state’s judiciary. That freeze expires either 90 days after the governor declares the COVID-19 emergency has ended, or when the order is amended or repealed by the Judicial Counsel.

“The governor is highly unlikely to relinquish all his emergency powers while the public health crisis continues, but the Judicial Council will face enormous pressure from landlords to lift the hold on unlawful detainer cases,” Blasi said. “The floodgates will open.”

The report shows that the various restrictions on evictions placed by state and local officials since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are unlikely to have much effect unless tenants have access to a lawyer, which is rarely the case in Los Angeles.

Professor Ananya Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, described Blasi as one of the luminaries of public interest law, and emphasized the significance of this report.

“While the report shows the vast scale of the devastation to come in the form of evictions and homelessness in Los Angeles, none of this is inevitable,” she said. “The report makes it clear that the crisis at hand is as much political inertia as it is a public health emergency.”

The paper also includes several policy recommendations and options, beginning with interventions that allow more tenants to pay rent and reduce the number of evictions, some of which are currently being discussed in Sacramento.

Given that tenants who represent themselves almost always lose eviction cases in which landlords are represented by a lawyer, the report argues for a massive expansion of the number of attorneys to help tenants defend themselves. Potential partner organizations such as Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Inner City Law Center are mentioned.

For those who are evicted, the report argues for expanding current “rapid rehousing” programs and dramatically increasing the number of currently vacant hotel and motel rooms to provide temporary shelter. As a last resort, the report argues, government officials must prepare to rapidly expand second-best alternatives such as villages of small structures and authorized and supported encampments.

Subsequent reports by the Institute, including “Hotels as Housing” and “Preparing for the Camps,” will address these measures in greater detail.

 

A Lesson on Housing Justice for L.A.’s Classrooms

Shelter-in-Place Burden Felt Keenly in Vulnerable Neighborhoods

A new report from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the public interest consulting firm Ong & Associates examines the disproportionately high burden of shelter-in-place orders on low-income and minority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The report illustrates race and class inequalities at the neighborhood level as communities follow mandates for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. According to the report, the communities most burdened by these mandates are “those with the greatest exposure to possible virus carriers, the highest stress levels associated with struggling to remain physically fit, and the most challenges to fulfilling essential daily or weekly needs.” To measure this vulnerability, researchers developed a “shelter-in-place burden index” that analyzed factors such as population density and access to public parks and supermarkets. According to the report, the analysis shows that “over-burdened neighborhoods tend to be low-income with a disproportionately large number of people of color and to suffer from a digital and transportation divide.” The report’s authors called on governments, foundations and community organizations to assist neighborhoods with the greatest need and develop equitable programs for social and economic recovery. “This is not the time to yield to the relatively few clamoring for an opening of the U.S. economy, without regard for the spread of the coronavirus. It is the time that we recognize and close the socioeconomic gap through actions that ensure fairness and justice,” II&D Director Ananya Roy noted.


 

A Fresh Vision for the Financing of Higher Education

A daylong conference hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin focused on a fresh vision for the financing of higher education, even as U.S. student debt has climbed to $1.6 trillion. The Feb. 7 event brought together 150 students, scholars and activists from across the country, many wearing small red squares as a symbol of solidarity. Hannah Appel, the institute’s associate faculty director, said student loans are crippling many households, particularly in communities of color. However, she said, “We are not here to talk about the student debt crisis. Instead, … we are here at a moment of possibility” thanks to a series of victories scored by a burgeoning social movement and intervention by engaged scholars. The conference featured two keynote speakers: economist Stephanie Kelton, and historian and author Barbara Ransby. Kelton, a professor at Stony Brook University and advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, presented research showing that cancellation of all U.S. student debt would boost the economy, adding $8.6 billion to $108 billion a year to the real gross domestic product. Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois and leader in the Scholars for Social Justice movement, said the intertwining of race and capitalism have turned many universities into “bad actors or silent partners in the growing debt crisis that many of our students face.” Other panelists included members of the activist group Debt Collective, who shared how they struggled to make loan payments for years before turning to collective action. Joining together into the nation’s first student debtors’ union has so far won over $1.5 billion in student debt cancellation. At a ceremony closing the conference, individuals were invited to burn slips of specially treated paper symbolizing collection notices to protest predatory loan practices.

View a video and photos of the conference.


 

 

Roy on Rise of Radical Democracy in Troubled Times

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, shared her views on the renewal of civic engagement in troubled times as part of the “55 Voices for Democracy” series presented by the Thomas Mann House. “It is no stretch to argue that the problem of the 21st century is the enduring problem of the color line,” Roy said. She argued, however, that amid vast income inequality and racial division, freedom dreams thrive, powered not by elite institutions but by grassroots activism and poor-people’s movements. Roy cited several examples: in the face of institutionalized white supremacy, a robust national discussion about black reparations; amid skyrocketing student debt, growing political interest in free college for all; as thousands of men and women live on the streets, calls for an ambitious public housing program and national rent control. “Radical democracy is demanded and created anew at each historical conjuncture, including this one,” Roy said.

Roy on the Meaning of Community

Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, was featured in KCET‘s report about the meaning of community, part of the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture’s ongoing series “10 Questions: Centennial Edition.” Community can be built through struggle, often by dismantling systems of oppression, Roy said at the forum. “I urge us to use the term ‘community’ with great caution, and I urge us to use the term ‘solidarity’ with even greater caution,” she said, saying real solidarity demands taking real risks. Roy emphasized the importance of simply showing up and also spoke of the complex power of social media, which can be a force for both “techno-capitalism” and democratization. Despite its potential to exclude, social media “is a key space now in community-making,” she said. Roy appeared with panelists Jennifer Ferro, president of KCRW and a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, and Kevin Kane, director of UCLA’s Visual and Performing Arts Education Program.


 

Roy Reflects on Sanctuary Jurisdictions

Ananya Roy, professor of social welfare and urban planning and director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, joined Society and Space for an interview about her recently published article “The City in the Age of Trumpism: From Sanctuary to Abolition.” Roy explained that her own journey as a “student of sanctuary” and its long and complex history was prompted by the 2016 election of President Trump and her subsequent participation in local efforts to combat the normalization of Trumpism. “I was particularly struck by the limited scope of sanctuary jurisdictions and their reliance on the authority of the police,” Roy explained. “Liberal cities committed to sanctuary status, such as San Francisco, are also sites of brutal practices of displacement and expulsion of the (always racialized) poor.” Roy identified the selective practices of protection and policing in today’s sanctuary cities as a “logic of liberal inclusion” that must be met with an ethics of abolition.