Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, was interviewed by the Planning Report on her thoughts about Senate Bill 50, which would have addressed the housing affordability crisis in California through blanket upzoning. The institute’s research has identified some of the underlying causes of housing unaffordability and homelessness in Los Angeles and California, including the “displacement of working-class communities of color from urban cores to the far peripheries of urban life” and the “broad state-driven processes of displacement, racial exclusion and resegregation.” Roy stressed the importance of “[recognizing] that different social classes experience [the housing] crisis in different ways.” According to Roy, policies like SB50 “solve the housing crisis for the upper-middle class—particularly for the white, entitled YIMBY movement—by grabbing the land of those who are truly on the front lines of the housing crisis.”
Hilary Malson, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, has been awarded a three-year Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship to support her study of race, space and community development in American exurbs. In her current research, Malson draws from the wider fields of diaspora studies and black geographies to explore how scattered black and brown communities navigate the expanded regional geographies of everyday life. The Ford Foundation honor “is testament to Hilary’s rigor as a scholar and recognition of her insistence that such scholarship be forged in solidarity with communities facing displacement and erasure,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, where Malson is a graduate student researcher. Malson holds a B.A. in the growth and structure of cities from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and an MSc in urbanization and development from the London School of Economics, where she earned the dissertation prize for her research on insurgent planning and spatial politics in a majority-minority Virginia suburb. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine awards the Ford Foundation Fellowships to increase diversity among university faculties and encourage professors to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Of the 71 national predoctoral fellowships announced this year, six were awarded to UCLA students.
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin was featured in a Public Seminar essay that highlighted the institute’s continuing collaborative efforts to support “organizations that conduct critical work on behalf of the dispossessed, including debtors, those displaced by gentrification and the formerly incarcerated.” Student debt and the prospect of tuition-free public universities have lately moved from fringe debate to a mainstream topic of discussion among Democratic presidential candidates. The institute has served as a model for creating reciprocal relationships between academia and debt relief organizations, often giving voice to academics who argue that “educational institutions that run on debt are in conflict with those who critique such models or who are working to concretely transform them.” This is “all the more reason for activists … to work in collaboration with those who may have access to resources but whose institutional affiliations may limit them in other ways,” the essay said.
In a Team Human podcast hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy discussed poverty and social justice from a global perspective. Roy explained how the “visible forms of poverty and inequality” in her childhood “shaped [her] interests in the study of cities and the manifestation of social inequality.” Roy discussed the relationships and discrepancies between poverty in the United States compared to developing countries in the global south, explaining that “poverty in many other parts of the world is not necessarily associated with political disenfranchisement in the ways in which it is in the United States.” Roy discussed spaces of mobilization and political power, noting that while “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, the master’s tools can certainly occupy the master house.” Roy concluded, “As Americans, we have an ethical and political responsibility to address the policies that then produce poverty around the world and in the United States as well.”
Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography Ananya Roy spoke with The Blue and White Magazine prior to giving a lecture at Columbia University on sanctuary cities in the Trump era. Roy discussed the mission of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, which she directs. “The collaborations between powerful universities and radical social movements and community-based organizing is never an easy one, but it is work that we are committed to doing,” Roy said. In the Trump era, she said, cities have been reactivated as sites of resistance even though sanctuary cities predate Trump. The 1980s saw a more radical and expansive understanding of sanctuary due to the recognition of U.S. imperialism and the violence it inflicted as the cause for Central Americans fleeing their countries, Roy said. The contemporary sanctuary movement is founded on the assertion of local sovereignty and reliance on local police power, she added.
Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Next City about the institute’s efforts to link the university’s research and resources with social movements and racial justice activism. “We call this decolonizing the university. Turning the university inside out,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning and social welfare. Roy said the institute is not a movement itself but stands in solidarity with community residents and organizers. “They’re telling us where the gaps in knowledge are and how our research should address those gaps,” Roy said. The article mentioned the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities network launched by the institute and the Activist-in-Residence program, which creates space for activists, artists and public intellectuals.
By Les Dunseith
UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy opened a multiple-day conference convened by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin by stressing a desire to shift people’s thinking beyond the pragmatic concerns of a “housing crisis” to the broader theme of “housing justice” and what that means to society on a global scale.
“Our present historical conjuncture is marked by visible manifestations of the obscene social inequality that is today’s housing crisis, the juxtaposition of the $238-million New York penthouse recently purchased by a hedge fund manager for occasional use, to the tent cities in which the houseless must find durable shelter,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute.
The setting for those remarks on Jan. 31, 2019, was particularly poignant — just outside, homeless people huddled on a cold and damp evening in tents lining the Skid Row streets surrounding the headquarters of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). Inside, a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 students, scholars, community organizers, housing experts and other stakeholders gathered to hear Roy and other speakers talk about the inadequate supply of affordable housing in California and around the world, and the cultural, political and economic barriers that undermine solutions.
“The fault lines have shifted,” Pete White, executive director and founder of LA CAN, told the audience. “We are now fighting the wholesale financialization of housing.”
The event in downtown Los Angeles and a full day of presentations that followed the next day on the UCLA campus was titled “Housing Justice in Unequal Cities,” and it signified the launch of a global research network of the same name supported by the National Science Foundation. With partners from India, Brazil, South Africa, Spain and across the United States, the network aims to bring together organizations, individuals and ideas around the creation of housing access and housing justice through legal frameworks, cooperative models of land and housing, and community organizing.
Roy said the Institute on Inequality and Democracy views the network as “exemplifying our commitment to address the displacements and dispossessions — what we call the urban color-lines — of our times.”
By partnering with community-based organizations such as LA CAN, “we situate housing justice in the long struggle for freedom on occupied, colonized, stolen land,” Roy told attendees.
The Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Network will bring together research and curriculum collaborations, data working groups, summer institutes, publishing projects and more. Roy said the network will unite movement-based and university-based scholars concerned with housing justice.
The effort also will build upon “an extraordinary proliferation of housing movements, policy experiments and alternative housing models,” Roy said. “This energy crackles all around us here in Los Angeles and it animates the work of the speakers at this conference.”
Over the course of the first evening and the full day of programming that followed, conference participants heard from a variety of speakers from UCLA, across the country and around the world — several of whom traveled from their home countries to be in attendance. The opening night included talks by James DeFilippis of Rutgers University, Maria Kaïka of University of Amsterdam, Erin McElroy of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Keisha-Khan Y. Perry of Brown University.
Kickoff event attendees also were treated to music, with UCLA Luskin’s urban planning student Caroline Calderon serving as DJ, and listened to a riveting spoken-word performance by poet Taalam Acey.
“A man is judged by what’s in his soul and what is in his heart … not just what is in his pocket,” Acey said.
The second day of the event attracted a crowd of about 250 people and focused primarily on current research related to housing justice. Speakers pointed out that housing equity goes well beyond the extremes of homeownership and homelessness to include the experience of renters as well.
“Renters are powerful contributors and creators of their communities,” noted Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink.
According to Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, “We don’t have a housing crisis, we have a tenants’ rights crisis.”
Additional speakers at the conference included UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy; UCLA Luskin graduate students Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson; Gautam Bhan of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements; Nicholas Blomley of Simon Fraser University; Nik Heynen of University of Georgia; Toussaint Losier of University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Sophie Oldfield of University of Cape Town; Laura Pulido of University of Oregon; Raquel Rolnik of University of São Paulo (via video); Tony Roshan Samara of Urban Habitat; Desiree Fields of University of Sheffield; and former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty member Gilda Haas of LA Co-op Lab.
Those interested in finding out more and getting involved in the effort are encouraged to sign up to receive housing justice reports and updates about community action and events: join the network.
View additional photos from the conference on Flickr.
UCLA Luskin Professor Ananya Roy commented to media outlets about the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Conference held Jan. 31-Feb. 1. UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy collaborated with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) in Skid Row to put on a conference that delved into L.A.’s housing crisis. As director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Roy spoke to Knock LA about the importance of UCLA being “an institution that serves the city.” In an article in Next City, Roy highlighted the discrepancy between the abundant anecdotal evidence of “Latino and black households being pushed out of the city” compared to the sparse systematic data available. Roy explained the importance of partnering with community residents and organizations that “tell us where the gaps in knowledge are and how our research should address those gaps.”
View photos from the conference
By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith
The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.
During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.
The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”
Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.
“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”
White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.
During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”
As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.
Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.
“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”
Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.
“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.
Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”
Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”
He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”
On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.
During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.
Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”
She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”
Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.
Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.
View more photos from the reception on Flickr:
By George Foulsham and Mary Braswell
A critical shortage of places to live — especially safe, affordable housing — has afflicted neighborhoods across California, the nation and the world. As politicians and civic leaders debate zoning laws and developer incentives, one principle is too often ignored: housing justice.
To fill this gap, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has entered into a first-time collaboration with the Activist Graduate School (AGS) to offer a new class called “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future,” which weaves together history, theory and strategy in a curriculum designed to forge equitable solutions to the housing crisis.
Housing injustice takes many forms, and each week the course will delve into a different facet: Mobilizing renters threatened by unfair evictions. Cracking down on predatory financing. Viewing public housing in a global context. Understanding tensions among tenants, landowners and law enforcement.
Open to all UCLA graduate students, the winter-quarter course quickly filled to capacity. Class sessions are being recorded to eventually be made available for online study worldwide through AGS, a learning community designed to meet the needs of activists.
“Activist Graduate School is part of our ongoing efforts at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy to develop strong alliances between university-based research and movement-based advocacy and activism,” said Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA and director of the Institute, which is hosting the course.
“We call this ‘teach, organize, resist,’ and the idea is to train graduate students at UCLA to make change in unequal cities as well as to share this training and pedagogy with activists and young professionals nationwide,” said Roy, who is co-teaching the course with Micah White, founder of AGS, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of UCLA’s 2019 Activists-in-Residence.
“We try to teach how to think like a critical activist — focusing on theory of change, strategy, history — without presuming to teach what will be effective or what will spark a social movement,” White said.
“One of the pedagogical principles of AGS is that activism cannot be taught in a prescriptive manner,” he added. “This is because any tactic that was useful in the past is likely to be ineffective in the future, and social movements nearly always come as a surprise; therefore, it is nearly impossible to predict which campaigns will take off.”
During the first class of the quarter, grassroots organizing and renter revolts took center stage. René Christian Moya, an activist with the L.A. Tenants Union and other advocacy groups, shared tactics learned in the trenches of the housing justice fight — including rent strikes and the public shaming of landlords, developers and politicians.
“The law is not on the side of tenants,” Moya said. “We have to be very, very clear and honest with tenants when we’re dealing with them that ultimately it is not the law that’s going to save them, and it’s damn well sure not going to be their elected officials. It’s going to be through their own power.”
The roots of housing injustice in the United States run deep, added speaker Marques Vestal, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s History department.
“Think of all the ways that tenants are maligned or completely disregarded in everyday culture,” Vestal said. “One of our most dangerous problems … is that most of society thinks landlordism is a natural hierarchy of land.”
Students in the class represented graduate programs from across campus: Geography, History, Law, Public Health, Chinese Studies and all three Luskin School programs — Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy. By the end of the course, each student will have developed a campaign tackling some area of housing injustice.
Dian Tri Irawaty, who came to UCLA after spending years as a tenant activist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was immediately drawn to the curriculum.
“I want to empower myself with academic tools while doing activism at the same time,” said Irawaty, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in urban geography and member of a graduate student working group at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
She hopes the course will enrich her research into housing and evictions in the global South and ultimately plans to bring her new skills and scholarship back to Jakarta to foster change.
“History, theory and strategy are really important if we want to win the fight for housing,” Irawaty said.
The course was designed in collaboration with Institute graduate student researchers Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.
“This continues the tradition of student-organized courses here at UCLA where we come together and create a curriculum that we feel is urgently needed but otherwise missing,” Roy said.
Graziani, who is also co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles, said the course will spur graduate students “to not only think like activists, but to think of ways that their scholarship can take up activists’ mandates for justice-oriented research.”
At the inaugural class, tenant organizer Moya issued a challenge to the gathered students. “You’re not here just to hear me lecture about this. You’re not here to hear any of us just tell you what we already know — that we’re suffering a horrible housing crisis that impacts all of our communities,” he said. “We need every single one of you here to jump into this movement.”
Support for the course is provided by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare from the Luskin School. Other UCLA supporters are the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Institute of American Cultures and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.
Cristina Barrera contributed to this report.
Follow the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin on Twitter @challengeineq to learn more about AGS featured speakers and for updates about the UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program.
View more photos from the Housing Justice Activism and Protest course on Flickr.