Roy Awarded ‘Freedom Scholar’ Grant to Advance Social Justice

Professor Ananya Roy, founding director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has been named a Freedom Scholar as part of a new philanthropic initiative to support progressive academics at the forefront of movements for economic and social justice. Marguerite Casey Foundation and Group Health Foundation launched the $3 million Freedom Scholars initiative to advance work in critical fields of research that are often underfunded or ignored. The 12 academics in the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars are leaders in abolitionist, Black, feminist, queer, radical and anti-colonialist studies. Each will receive $250,000 over two years. “These Freedom Scholars are shifting the balance of power to families and communities that have been historically excluded from the resources and benefits of society,” said Carmen Rojas, CEO and president of Marguerite Casey Foundation. “Support for their research, organizing and academic work is pivotal in this moment where there is a groundswell of support to hold our political and economic leaders accountable.” Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy. Her research has focused on urban transformations and land grabs, as well as global capital and predatory financialization, with a focus on poor people’s movements. The Freedom Scholar award, which will be administered through the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, is designed to advance “a new vision and new ideas for what it means for our society to be just, fair and free,” said Nichole June Maher, CEO of Group Health Foundation.


Data Informs Action as L.A. Approves Tenant Defense Fund

Coverage of the city of Los Angeles’ new program to help low-income tenants defend themselves in court if threatened with eviction cited research from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) at UCLA Luskin. The city ordinance creating the $10 million program specifically cited a May 2020 II&D report that warned of widespread evictions and homelessness in the city and county amid the persistent COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates and elected officials have pointed to the study to press for swift action. They include an official with the nonprofit Housing Rights Center, who urged the Los Angeles City Council to treat the new legal defense fund as “a down payment to greater and more permanent tenant protections,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Other media outlets citing the II&D research include Spectrum News, Telemundo, Fox11 News and the Outlook Newspapers.


II&D Research Cited in L.A. Proposal to Forgive Household Debt

News reports about a Los Angeles City Council member’s proposal to forgive the household debt of Angelenos hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic cited a report on the risk of widespread evictions compiled by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D). Councilman David Ryu pointed to the research in making a case for the debt relief proposal, which would be funded through the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility program, part of the federal CARES Act. “If we don’t deal with this crisis now, it will create an avalanche of homelessness and a generation of people buried in debt, and Los Angeles will pay the price for decades to come,” Ryu said. News outlets covering the proposal include the Larchmont Buzz, Los Feliz Ledger and Beverly Press. The II&D report was also recently cited by the Los Angeles Daily News and Pasadena Now.


Research Points to ‘Eviction Cliff’

A Los Angeles Times column on the threat of an “eviction cliff,” which could push hundreds of thousands of Californians out of their homes once legal protections expire, cited the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy’s extensive research on the impending crisis. Professor Emeritus Gary Blasi of UCLA Law, one of the authors of the research, likened the expected wave of evictions to a major earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, “except the buildings will still be standing; it’s just the people that will be on the street.” In addition, the institute’s director, Professor Ananya Roy, shared highlights of the research along with short- and long-term policy goals at a webinar hosted by Occidental College. “What we need is a robust model of housing, not just emergency shelter,” Roy stressed. Other media outlets covering the institute’s research include Fox11 News, the Orange County RegisterPasadena Now and the Los Angeles Daily News. 


Black, Latino Renters Far More Likely to Be Facing Housing Displacement During Pandemic Systemic racial inequality underlies nonpayment of rent, UCLA Luskin researchers say

By Les Dunseith

A new study of the magnitude, pattern and causes of COVID-19’s impact on California housing reveals that Black people and Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be experiencing rent-related hardships.

The analysis by researchers from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and Ong & Associates, in coordination with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, relies on the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, a multiagency effort to collect information on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on Americans. The research findings are based on pooling a 10-week sample of more than 22,000 adults in California for the period from April 23 to July 7.

During the pandemic, workers, families, businesses and communities have experienced enormous financial difficulties, and the new study estimates that more than 1.9 million adults in California were unable to pay their rent on time in early July. The finding that Black and Latino renters are particularly vulnerable echoes previous analyses showing that minority renters are more likely to be suffering economically during the pandemic.

“These systematic racial or ethnoracial disparities are the product of systemic inequality,” UCLA Luskin research professor Paul Ong writes in the study. “People of color, low-income individuals, and those with less education and skills are most at risk.”

An analysis of the survey responses shows that people of color are disproportionately more concentrated in the lower-income and lower-education brackets, and they entered the crisis with fewer financial and human capital resources. Those people of color who lost their jobs or suffered a significant earnings loss during the pandemic were therefore far more likely to fall behind on rent.

When the researchers looked closely at who was unable to pay rent during the period of study, they found that 23% were Black and 20% were Latino — more than double the 9% for both whites and Asians.

In her foreword to the study, UCLA urban planning professor Ananya Roy, the director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, writes, “An especially important finding of the report is that across socioeconomic status categories, Black and Latinx households are more likely to be unable to pay rent compared to non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans, a stark reminder of the entrenched racial disparities that are being rearticulated and amplified by the present crisis.”

The researchers delved deeper into the data to compare the experiences of various ethnic and racial groups based on demographic characteristics such as level of education. They found that Black and Latino respondents with some college education had higher rates of nonpayment of rent than whites and Asian Americans with similar educations. Racial disparities were evident even when the researchers focused on employment and earnings categories related to COVID-19.

“In other words,” Ong writes, “the pattern indicates that racial inequality is not due simply to class differences.”

Many experts believe this situation will lead to a wave of evictions in coming months unless governments take steps to protect people who have fallen behind on rent during the crisis. This includes extending the state’s eviction moratorium, continuing supplemental employment benefits and providing financial assistance to offset accumulated rent debt.

In a July 27 webinar hosted by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Paul Ong, Ananya Roy and others discuss the potential for mass COVID-19–related evictions in Los Angeles if current tenant protections are not extended.

The researchers did uncover some disparate patterns across ethnoracial groups. For example, the correlation between a lower income and the inability to pay rent was pronounced for both whites and Latinos, but it was minimal, and statistically insignificant, for Asians and Black people. The impact of less education was very pronounced for Black people but only minimally so for the other three groups. The effect of earnings losses was far greater for Black and Latino people than for white and Asian people.

Perhaps most surprising, the researchers said, was the effect of joblessness. While a loss of work led to an increased likelihood of nonpayment of rent among Asian and Latino people, it marginally decreased the odds of rental difficulties among white and Black people.

“One reasonable explanation is disparate access to unemployment insurance,” Ong writes in the study. He noted that Asians and Latinos may have less access to this type of financial relief — which can more than replace lost wages — because many work in informal ethnic job sectors and also face linguistic, cultural and legal barriers to applying for and collecting unemployment benefits.

The study urges elected officials to extend and expand unemployment insurance benefits. The researchers also call for the renewal of temporary tenant protections and say that financial relief should be provided to both renters and landlords.

Overall, the study’s findings show that prepandemic inequalities and pandemic labor-market hardships amplify systemic racial disparities. The economic impact on low-income and minority populations is likely to be long-lasting because so many people will have amassed a huge debt of deferred rents.

“Many will struggle to find meaningful employment in a protracted and uneven economic recovery,” Ong writes. “It is very likely that race will shape who will be most hurt.”

Ong is the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He also founded Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm that specializes in public interest issues and provided services pro bono for this study.

Spotlight on the ‘Next Disaster Under COVID-19’

KABC7 and FOX11 covered a forum featuring several UCLA Luskin scholars who weighed in on the impending threat of eviction and homelessness facing many Angelenos. Calling the tenants rights crisis “The Next Disaster Under COVID-19,” the forum brought together Paul Ong of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, Ananya Roy of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Gary Blasi of UCLA Law and moderator Karen Umemoto of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, along with several housing justice advocates. The news segment focused on the latest UCLA Luskin research identifying the region’s most vulnerable neighborhoods and outlining steps public officials can take to protect Angelenos at risk of losing their homes. Recommended policies include rent subsidies and the conversion of hotel and motel rooms, which have remained vacant during the pandemic, into housing. The research has also been shared by the Daily Journal, World Journal, LAist and NextCity, among other outlets.


Roy Addresses Structural Inequalities in Scientific Research

Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning and director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke to Nature about the importance of prioritizing research submissions from vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal boards and editors are exploring ways to support female researchers and others whose publications and positions are at risk. Roy, an editor of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, explained the journal’s decision to address structural inequality by putting papers from women and early-career researchers at the front of the review queue. “For years, I’ve paid close attention to papers from scholars who are not at elite universities and to those from early-career researchers,” Roy said. Now, she worries about doctoral students who must complete research projects amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. “This is an opportunity for us to think about how we can deepen practices of compassion, care and equity,” she said.

The Next Disaster under COVID-19: Mass Evictions and Homelessness

With the eviction moratorium set to be lifted on September 30, 2020, about 365,000 renter households in Los Angeles County are in imminent danger of eviction and homelessness according to a recent study from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Please join us for a virtual public forum with housing justice researchers and community organizers to discuss the tenants’ rights crisis and what can be done to mitigate the damage to Angelenos through enforceable rights and robust protections.

The event will feature research findings from these 3 reports:

UD Day: Impending Evictions and Homelessness in Los Angeles

This report projects a surge in evictions and homelessness that will follow the lifting of COVID-19 emergency orders.

Hotel California: Housing the Crisis

This report lays out a comprehensive framework for the conversion of hospitality properties into housing through the large-scale public acquisition of tourist hotels and motels.

Economic Impacts of the COVID-19 Crisis in Los Angeles: Identifying Renter-Vulnerable Neighborhoods

This study provides information to public agencies and community organizations to help them better identify neighborhoods with a high concentration of vulnerable renters, to understand the neighborhoods’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, and to design outreach programs that address the specific challenges in each place.


Gary Blasi, UCLA Law School

Ananya Roy, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality & Democracy

Paul Ong, UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge

Jane Nguyen, Ktown for All

Leonardo VilchisElizabeth Blaney, Union de Vecinos

Jason Li Alejandro Cortez, Chinatown Community for Equitable Development

Moderator: Karen Umemoto, UCLA Asian American Studies Center

Sponsored by:

UCLA Asian American Studies Center

UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge

Ktown for All

Union de Vecinos

Chinatown Community for Equitable Development

UCLA Asian American Studies Department

Roy on Shifting Hotels From Hospitality to Urgently Needed Housing

Ananya Roy, director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, co-authored an opinion piece for the Appeal that argued for the conversion of tens of thousands of vacant hotel rooms to house Angelenos threatened with homelessness. Given the downturn in the global tourist industry, many of these rooms are expected to remain unused for years to come, said Roy and co-author Jonny Coleman of NOlympics LA. The public acquisition of hotels and motels using tools such as eminent domain is the only way the region can add an adequate number of housing units quickly and affordably, they argued. “It is worth reflecting on how the present moment of compounding crises has broken past the limits of the possible,” they wrote. The piece pointed to the institute’s recently released report, “Hotel California: Housing the Crisis,” which was also cited in media outlets including LAist, Univision and NextCity.


Vacant Tourist Hotels Should Be Repurposed to House Homeless, Report Urges

A new UCLA report calls for the increased conversion of hotel rooms to provide shelter for thousands of people in Los Angeles who are predicted to lose their housing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report makes the case for an effort dubbed by the authors as (More) Hotels as Housing to repurpose tourist hotel and motel rooms that have become vacant during a downturn in global tourism that may extend for many years as a result of the health crisis. “We advocate shifting property use from hospitality to housing through the large-scale public acquisition of tourist hotels and motels,” write the report’s authors, who include Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law, and Professor Ananya Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The report urges public officials to act quickly to protect thousands of newly unemployed workers who will soon face eviction for unpaid rent and are likely to become homeless as a result. The authors note that Los Angeles has a long history of building luxury hotels for which developers have benefited from public subsidies and land assembly. “It is time to redirect public resources and public purpose tools such as eminent domain for low-income and extremely low-income housing, especially in Black and Brown communities where public investment has primarily taken the form of policing,” according to Blasi, Roy and their co-authors, writer and grassroots organizer Jonny Coleman and housing justice activist and researcher Elana Eden.