Property, Personhood, and Police: Counter-Mapping Nuisance from Louisville to Los Angeles

Thinking, organizing, and mapping from Louisville, Kentucky and Los Angeles, California, this event will explore how the policing of nuisance has become a tool for neighborhood transformation and racial banishment. As documented by the Root Cause Research Center, the death of Breonna Taylor in March 2020 was linked to a neighborhood policing program used to declare nuisance properties in Louisville’s gentrifying neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, the Citywide Nuisance Abatement Program (CNAP) has similarly been used as a tool for redevelopment as well as a means to increase surveillance in the city’s communities of color.

Join us as we discuss the ways that organizing has been, and continues to be instrumental, in resisting these emerging racialized property logics.

Featured speakers:
Jessica Bellamy, Root Cause Research Center
Josh Poe, Root Cause Research Center
Terra Graziani, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP)
Pamela Stephens, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

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

 

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A New Role for a Climate Justice Expert  As associate faculty director at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Kian Goh brings a global perspective on environmental issues

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Kian Goh, who studies the politics around cities’ responses to climate change, becomes an associate faculty director as of the fall quarter at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She said the institute is a leader in working with and alongside movement-based organizations fighting for change.  

Goh, an assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, noted that the typical presumptions of objective research in the social sciences sometimes conflicts with the desire to see the problem from the point of view of oppressed groups, in order to challenge unjust systems and promote greater equity in decision-making in cities. Overcoming this hurdle as it relates to urban responses to climate change is one of the objectives of her recently published book, “Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice.”

“This type of positional research is more attuned to how structural power actually works,” Goh said. “And it’s what I think the Institute on Inequality and Democracy does incredibly well. I’m so excited to be part of it.”

Ananya Roy, the inaugural director of the Institute which was founded in 2016, said Goh’s global perspective and her expertise in community responses to environmental problems are ideally suited to bolster the institute’s efforts to pair critical thought with social movements and activism in the interest of combating societal inequalities.

“Climate justice is of central concern to the institute’s current research priorities, from housing justice to abolition,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “It undergirds all of the ways in which we must understand racial capitalism and make change in the world and professor Goh is precisely the scholar whose rigorous research and capacious vision allows us to do so at the institute and beyond.”

Goh sees her new role as the next step in a progression from working architect to urban planning scholar.

While working as an architect in and around New York City in the early 2000s, Goh found her interests expanding beyond the buildings she was designing, especially regarding urban inequalities and the impacts of climate change.

“I would also be really interested in the history of that neighborhood — how it got to be in the condition that it was in,” she said. 

Goh witnessed first-hand the benefits of community involvement in recovery efforts in Brooklyn following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and that experience contributed to her decision to focus on the topic while pursuing a doctorate in urban and environmental planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her varied academic career began as an undergraduate at the College of Wooster in Ohio and continued at Yale, where she earned her Master of Architecture degree. She previously taught at Northeastern University in Boston, the University of Pennsylvania, the New School in New York and Washington University in St. Louis. 

Goh’s book focuses in part on the Rebuild by Design competition in New York City after Sandy as part of an examination of power relationships and civic activism. The book examines the conflicts that can arise when cities respond to climate change. She looks not only at initiatives in New York but also at the Rotterdam Climate Proof program in the Netherlands and the Giant Sea Wall plan in Jakarta, Indonesia, and analyzes the interconnections of ideas and influence among them.

Her scholarship is firmly grounded in participant observation. 

“When I look at environmental conflicts that are happening in Jakarta, for instance, I will look at what community activists working in the informal kampung settlements there are doing to protect their neighborhoods — from floods but also from eviction and displacement by the city, which claims that they are in overly vulnerable places that need to be cleared,” Goh explained. “This type of close, on-the-ground participatory research, plus a global lens, fits very well with how the institute sees its work.”

At the heart of Goh’s scholarship are people struggling with crisis, whether it be longer-term threats such as rising sea levels or more immediate dangers like wildfires or floods. Joining the faculty at UCLA Luskin five years ago has encouraged Goh to think about the types of environmental justice issues often seen in California, including water use. 

Goh noted the long history of proposals to revitalize the L.A. River from its current existence as a concrete channel whose primary purpose is flood control. 

“Oftentimes, we see some really ambitious ideas to make the river more ecological, more sustainable,” Goh said. Unfortunately, some of those grand ideas fail to contemplate how neighborhoods near the L.A. River would be impacted.

“So, we have projects that are ostensibly for sustainability and for climate protection,” Goh said. “But if they’re not done in a way that takes into account the voices on the ground, the communities that have previously been marginalized and pushed into some of these neighborhoods, then these people stand to be even further marginalized and potentially displaced.”

Thankfully, she is witnessing a greater acceptance among policymakers to look to community organizers and social movements for answers. 

“What I have seen in New York and also in Los Angeles is more government officials who are saying, ‘We need to look more toward what’s happening on the ground,’” Goh said. “What I think hasn’t happened enough is … how does that actually become part of the plans? There are folks who are doing all these focus groups and talking to people, trying to learn. But sometimes it just becomes a report that lies around somewhere.”

At the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Goh sees a shared commitment to translate ideas into action. She describes her ideas about a research project around climate justice and cities:

“It revolves around two things — climate and power,” she said. “That the issue of climate change in cities is always a matter of who has the power in cities and who doesn’t.”

Goh intends to investigate how climate justice organizers build social movements in cities. She said researchers have shown that inequality matters in environmental planning — poorer people suffer most from environmental harms in cities. 

“It is not enough simply pointing out inequality without taking on the power relationships that are causing that inequality,” Goh said. She plans to work with colleagues at the institute to model a more democratic process in which urban governance decisions are made in cooperation with movement builders.

“These organizers and activists on the ground need to be seen as a necessary and integral part of how we think about planning for climate change,” she said. 

Roy Fears Housing Crisis Growing Worse

Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy spoke to the New York Times about the affordable housing crisis and growing issue of homelessness in California. While the eviction moratorium has been a “safety net of sorts” for communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a “postponement of the crisis, rather than a solution,” Roy said in a lengthy interview. “Its disappearance will be sure to expand and expedite evictions.” Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, called for “full rental debt cancellation and public investment in housing for working-class communities.” She predicted that the economic impact of the pandemic will result in a “housing crisis worse than the Great Depression,” prompting mass evictions and exacerbating homelessness. To avoid this, Roy recommended that the government buy and convert vacant and distressed properties into low-income housing, a solution that is faster and less expensive than building new housing.


Roy Protests Olympic Injustices at ‘NOpening Ceremony’

Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy was featured in a KCET article about the NOlympics LA group mobilizing to resist the 2028 Olympic Games. On the day of the Olympics Opening Ceremony in Tokyo, the NOlympics group held a “NOpening Ceremony” in Echo Park to rally support for the movement to stop the 2028 Games from coming to Los Angeles. The event was co-sponsored by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. “We are gathered here as a counterpoint to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games,” said Roy, director of the institute and moderator of the event. “That Olympic spectacle, that seeming dream image, is in fact a nightmare… [It] has always been a land profiteering scheme with the excuse of world harmony.” Pointing to a history of racial injustice, policing and class oppression associated with the Olympic Games, the NOlympics group aims to build transnational resistance and reject Olympics anywhere in the world.


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.