L.A. Road Trip Reveals Enormous Wealth, Astounding Poverty

In the premier episode of “On the Road to Change,” Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D), takes viewers on a drive through Los Angeles’ wealthiest and most impoverished areas to illustrate the region’s entrenched housing injustices. In the video produced by the Goethe-Institut and Thomas Mann House Los Angeles, Roy and German philosopher Rainer Forst visit a mega-mansion on the market for hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when hundreds of thousands of Angelenos face eviction as pandemic-era renter protections expire, according to II&D research. In a conversation blending policy strategies with linguistics and economic philosophy, Roy and Forst explore the complexities of providing housing relief in a place of enormous wealth and beauty but also astounding poverty and misery. Their journey ends in Skid Row, where Pete White, founder of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), shares the grassroots group’s strategies for bringing about housing justice.

Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


 

Activist-in-Residence on Goals at UCLA

Theo Henderson, host of the podcast “We the Unhoused,” spoke to KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” about his goals as the newly named UCLA Activist-in-Residence. Hosted by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Henderson hopes to help educate “our future generation of leaders to make the right calls on dealing with the unhoused crisis.” Henderson offers a personal perspective on policies aimed at addressing Los Angeles’ growing housing crisis. “Too often, the people who are leading the conversation have little to no experience in being unhoused,” he said. “They have repeated the same disastrous solutions and the same harmful narratives.” Henderson’s podcast has given him a platform to reach a homeless population in search of information about how to find shelter and stay safe, as well as prominent L.A. officials who tune in regularly. “I wanted people to learn that the world is not the same for housed people as for unhoused people,” he said.

Changing the Unhoused Narrative, One Story at a Time L.A.-based educator and podcast host is chosen as Activist-in-Residence by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

By Stan Paul

Theo Henderson, the founder of the “We the Unhoused” podcast and himself a person who has experienced homelessness for several years in Los Angeles, has been raising awareness of the unhoused for the last two years on his podcast. For the next few months, he’ll lend his experiences to UCLA as Activist-in-Residence at the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, said that through his work, Henderson has already had a significant impact on the public’s understanding of homelessness in Los Angeles.

“Rooted in his own experience of becoming unhoused, his podcast is a decisive intervention in how we understand housing insecurity and housing solutions,” said Roy, also a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “Mr. Henderson constantly draws our attention to the structural causes of poverty, including racism, and reminds us of the social and policy shifts needed to address such issues.”

Now in its fifth year, the program based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs brings artists, activists and public intellectuals to campus in an effort to further academic understanding of social justice issues such as housing. “[Henderson] joins an illustrious set of previous Activists-in-Residence and was selected for this appointment from among an exceptionally strong pool of applicants,” Roy said.

Henderson said his podcast was small but effective in its early stages — and, literally, a grassroots effort.

“I created ‘We the Unhoused’ living out in the park, and I wanted to uplift the stories of unhoused people in a larger setting,” said Henderson, who has been recording his podcast interviews and commentary on his cellphone. “Many of the institutions of higher learning are not really plugged into that kind of conversation from the lived experience experts.”

Originally from Chicago, Henderson, 48, is college-educated and had a job as a schoolteacher in Los Angeles at the time of the Great Recession. A medical crisis and loss of his job were followed by eviction and search for stable shelter. He ended up unhoused and living in a park.

Henderson, who has spoken to classes and in other academic settings, including several times at UCLA, says one of the central “civil rights issues of our time is houselessness.”

A major problem with the narrative around housing issues is that it has been — and remains — guided by people who are housed, Henderson said.

“It is erasing unhoused people from view. That experience motivated me to tell my story on my own terms and give voice to the voiceless,” he said.

“I emphasize different things that are really important or because of what I’ve seen with mainstream news,” Henderson said. An example would be a crime story that involves an unhoused person, whether a victim or otherwise, in which “housing status became a little large in the headlines.”

He wanted to push back. So, Henderson launched his podcast, just prior to the pandemic.  COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem and made it more difficult for the unhoused, he said.

“I made it a point to make different podcasts about experiences of the unhoused during COVID because people forget that, when shelter-in-place happened, the world literally stopped,” he said. “It’s a real situation. I think the world needed to know. But COVID happened … you forget about the unhoused; they have to survive as well.”

At UCLA, Henderson said he hopes to utilize the academic setting and his residency to open the door to more active, mobile research methods and see how theories play out in real-world scenarios.

Henderson is also looking to impart knowledge that can be applied to settings that he might not otherwise be able to access, including business, politics and higher learning. He also plans to engage with students through workshops and class discussions, as well as participating in community events and visiting sites both on and off the campus.

In his application for the residency, Henderson wrote, “Students have the power to make change, but they need to be armed with the necessary knowledge to do so. In order to make an impact, future leaders need to build connections with people dealing with the realities of houselessness.”

“Mr. Henderson is a lifelong educator. He has not allowed the condition of becoming unhoused to end his teaching. Instead, he has created new pedagogies that reflect the condition of being unhoused,” Roy said. “I anticipate that he will be a terrific educator for UCLA Luskin faculty and students.”

It’s an honor to be chosen as the next Activist-in-Residence and to return to the UCLA campus, Henderson said. “I’ve been there so much. I used to joke, ‘I might as well have a spot here.’ ”

The Failure of American Housing and the Rise of Tenant Power

In his latest book Professor Andrew Ross exposes the overlooked housing crisis sweeping America’s suburbs and rural areas, where residents suffer ongoing trauma, poverty, and nihilism. As an unhoused Angeleno, 2022 UCLA Activist-in-Residence Theo Henderson will bring his first hand experience to the conversation while also lifting up the voices of the unhoused community of Los Angeles as he has done in his podcast “We the Unhoused.”

Moderated by:

  • Hannah Appel, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies and Associate Faculty Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
Chaired by:
  • Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography and inaugural Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

 

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Roy on ‘Impoverishment and Abandonment’ on L.A. Streets

The Guardian, CalMatters and other media outlets spotlighted a study from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy that gauged the death toll among Los Angeles County’s unhoused population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between March 2020 and July 2021, nearly 1,500 people died on the streets or in outdoor spaces including freeway underpasses, parks, sidewalks, dumpsters, abandoned buildings, bus stops, tents, riverbeds, railroads and encampments, the study found. The number does not include those who died in hospitals, shelters or cars. The CalMatters piece focused on the most common cause of death: accidental overdose. The Guardian noted that the average age of unhoused residents who died was 47, a finding that II&D Director Ananya Roy found particularly disturbing. “We’ve got to get serious about using that metric to understand the levels of impoverishment and abandonment here in the U.S.,” she said. The Independent, Planetizen and Insider were among other media covering the study.


 

Report Focuses on Deaths of Unhoused People During Pandemic Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy analysis delves into coroner’s data between March 2020 and July 2021

By Les Dunseith

A newly released report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy examines coroner’s data to provide a detailed profile of people in Los Angeles County who may have been unhoused when they died during the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report looks at publicly available data from the Los Angeles County Examiner-Coroner’s website and filters it based on locations of death closely affiliated with unhoused status. Researchers identified 1,493 persons who may have been unhoused when they passed away on Los Angeles County’s streets or in outdoor spaces between March 2020 and July 2021. 

Researchers looked separately at the 418 deaths that occurred in L.A. County hotel or motel rooms during the same time period. The report argues that these deaths should also be examined because such locations served as a primary site of residency for the unhoused amid the pandemic as part of the state’s COVID-19 response targeting the homeless population, known as Project Roomkey, or because these persons were likely experiencing dire housing precarity and relied on hotel and motel rooms as housing of last resort.

Nearly half of those who died in hotel/motel locations were white and almost 30% were women. Roughly 3 in 5 of the deaths were attributed by the coroner to drug or alcohol overdose.

At a time when public concern about overdoses is growing, the report calls for a deeper understanding, viewing such deaths “not as individual acts of overdose but rather as a collective condition of suffering caused by displacement.” The report also includes profiles of two unhoused community members who died during this time, Tony Goodwin and Salvy Chic. 

Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, wrote in the report: “We have felt the imperative to present this analysis of coroner’s data because it provides an understanding of key patterns and trends that are of direct relevance to the struggle for justice and freedom in Los Angeles.” 

Other key findings include: 

  • Over 35% of the deaths were at locations designated as sidewalks.
  • The average age at the time of death was 47.
  • The coroner attributed nearly half to an accidental manner of death, with less than one-fifth attributed to natural causes. Among the accidental deaths, almost 40% were attributed by the coroner to drug or alcohol overdose. 

Chloe Rosenstock, a UCLA undergraduate student and Street Watch LA organizer, was a co-author of the report, which is titled, “We Do Not Forget: Stolen Lives of L.A.’s Unhoused Residents During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It was prepared in cooperation with the After Echo Park Lake research collective led by Roy, with guidance from Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing (UTACH) and organizers in Street Watch LA and Ground Game LA.

Property, Personhood and Police: Counter-Mapping Nuisance

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.