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.”

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.