Latino, Asian Households Lag in Access to State Rent Assistance Program In a new report, UCLA researchers recommend extending protections against eviction

By Jessica Wolf

California has extended eviction protections to June 30 for hundreds of thousands of renters made vulnerable by the pandemic’s economic disruptions, yet tens of thousands of renters who might need assistance remain either unaware of the program or face barriers to applying.

This problem is especially acute among tens of thousands of low-income Asian and Latino households that are behind on rent and have not yet applied, according to a new UCLA report (PDF).

“We find that not much has changed since the onset of the pandemic — lower-income people and people of color are disproportionately struggling to pay the rent,” said Paul Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who led the study.

The state currently has an enormous backlog of applicants attempting to access California’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which launched in spring 2020. More than half a million California renters have applied to the state’s relief program as of March 29, 2022.

To gauge how effective the rental assistance program has been, researchers from Ong’s center, along with colleagues from UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, Asian American Studies Center and Chicano Studies Research Center, examined the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey data gathered from July 21, 2021, to Jan. 10, 2022. They then compared it to publicly available information about renters who have applied for California’s rental assistance program.

The researchers found that Asian and Latino households are severely underrepresented among those who have managed to receive rent relief, compared to non-Latino white renters, even when accounting for income, age and metropolitan area of residence.

The report’s authors are calling for lawmakers to consider maintaining benefit programs like rental assistance and other safety-net initiatives until unemployment numbers for people of color in California drop below pre-pandemic levels.

“These findings reveal that funds have not been equitably distributed to those with the greatest needs,” said Melany De La Cruz-Viesca MA UP ’02, deputy director of the Asian American Studies Center.

Asian American renters had the lowest application rate for rental assistance, the report found. Only 25% of rent-distressed Asian American households applied for relief, compared to almost 50% of white renters and 64% of Black renters. The second-lowest application rate was among rent-distressed Latinos at only 39%. Rent-distressed is defined in the report as households that reported being behind on rent or would otherwise have been without assistance.

While 21% of white households and 20% of Black households received rent relief from the program, just 11% of Asian households and 14% of Latino households did.

Overall, the report notes that an estimated 14% of California renters are behind on their rent and 15% fear facing the threat of eviction. Roughly 10 times as many low-income renters are behind on their rent, compared to upper-income renters (21% compared to 2%, respectively). More than twice as many Asian American, Black and Latino renters are struggling to keep up relative to their white counterparts.

“We believe that the inequality facing Asians and Latinos is due in part to language barriers, citizenship status, access to technology and lack of robust community information,” said Urban Planning Professor Veronica Terriquez, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center.

The report notes that the Census’ Household Pulse Survey is not conducted in any Asian languages, further limiting information about how Asian American households are faring as the pandemic enters a third calendar year.

The most potent thing California lawmakers can do, the report stresses, is indefinitely extend the rental assistance and other safety net programs such as utility shut-off protection and food security programs, until unemployment rates for all racial groups fall below pre-pandemic rates.

Overall, around 60% of distressed renters in California either did not apply to rent-relief programs even though they struggled to keep up with rent or they applied and were denied relief, the report found.

“Part and parcel with that is designing and expanding programs to reach eligible renters, including funding community-based organizations as trusted messengers,” said Silvia González MURP ’13 Ph.D. ’20, director of research for the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “We believe there are a significant number of distressed renters who are unaware of the emergency assistance program or are afraid to apply.”

 

Delving Into the Archives of Japanese American Incarceration

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto was featured in a UCLA Newsroom article about an undergraduate course focusing on the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during the 1940s. Eighty years ago this month, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 after the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II. The order sent nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent, branded suspicious solely by virtue of their heritage, to live in prison camps. The upper-division course immerses students in the growing online archive of primary source materials related to the experiences of Japanese Americans. It is co-taught by Umemoto, who directs the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and public historian Brian Niiya, who earned a master’s in Asian American studies at UCLA.


 

Umemoto on Acknowledging Painful History

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to NBC News about the importance of facilitating discussions about racial tensions to incorporate the histories of communities that have long been made invisible. In 1871, about 20 Chinese Americans were murdered in a race riot in Los Angeles, now regarded by many as a forgotten history. Umemoto said that we can be critical of the things that have taken place in history without necessarily blaming the ancestors of those who may have perpetrated injustices. “Remembering both the accomplishments and achievements of different groups in society is as important as remembering the tragedies,” said Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. In ethnic studies, Umemoto aims to “teach about the full lives of people of color in this country and Indigenous peoples in this country so that we could develop that historical empathy for one another.”


Umemoto on Opening of Terasaki Budokan

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the opening of the Terasaki Budokan gym and community center in Little Tokyo. After decades of planning and a $35-million fundraising effort, the opening of the Budokan in June was a huge victory for the Little Tokyo community. Umemoto explained that many Japanese immigrants settled in what became Little Tokyo in the late 19th century after being shut out from other neighborhoods due to racial discrimination. Later, those same Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from Little Tokyo when the U.S. government sent them to concentration camps during World War II. The Budokan will host sports leagues, afterschool programs, classes for senior citizens and cultural events, but most importantly, it will be a gathering place in a historic neighborhood threatened by assimilation and gentrification. It will also help young people connect with their roots and may help revive business in Little Tokyo’s stores and restaurants.


Ong, Umemoto on Shortcomings of ‘Asian American’ Label

Research Professor Paul Ong and Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to Vox about concerns that the broadness of the term “Asian American” erases and flattens many of the cultures it encompasses. Asian Americans comprise 50 ethnic groups with more than 100 languages, but using the label “Asian American” fuels the myth that the group is monolithic. Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, explained that “Pacific Islanders were too small of a group in the mind of key decision-makers to report separately,” which led to their initial grouping as Asian Americans. Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, added, “There has long been a problem of lumping all of the groups together, which makes Asian Americans look well-off by some measures when averaged out as a sociopolitical group. But we’re a bifurcated community, with wide differences in well-being within and across ethnic groups.”


Chancellor’s Arts Initiative Awards Grant to Umemoto

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto has been named a recipient of the 2021 Chancellor’s Arts Initiative, a program to advance arts-related research that is timely, relevant and original and that increases public awareness of the arts at UCLA. Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, is one of 12 faculty members to receive a grant under the $150,000 program sponsored by the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts and the Office for Research and Creative Activities. Priority was given to projects that contribute to UCLA’s larger commitments to sustainability, anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion. Amid a rise in anti-Asian violence in America, the Asian American Studies Center in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Center will spearhead a multimedia and multiperforming arts event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Los Angeles Chinese Massacre of 1871, which involved the lynching of 19 Chinese immigrants. In addition to spoken narrative based on an original script, the project will feature body movement artists and a soundscape that draws from culturally diverse acoustic instruments and computer-generated sounds. This community engagement piece will include a pre-performance workshop and a post-event reception with speakers, performers and invited guests sharing historical accounts of racist violence against Asians in Los Angeles and linking the experiences of the past to the present. The Chancellor’s Council on the Arts also announced the launch of GO ARTS UCLA, an online platform that brings together the full array of UCLA arts and humanities events and research in one central location, underscoring the role of the arts at the university and within Los Angeles’ cultural ecosystem.


 

Umemoto on Coalitions Emerging From Firestorm of Racism

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to the Los Angeles Times and the podcast Then & Now about the dramatic rise in attacks on Asian Americans. Umemoto called the violence a “shadow epidemic,” stoked by former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. “Trump’s role in exacerbating and igniting this firestorm can’t be denied,” she told the L.A. Times. But she also pointed to a new era of coalition-building among communities of color long targeted by a culture steeped in white supremacy. “One of Trump’s legacies is sparking more activism and more acts of solidarity across many groups who became victim of many of his policies and rhetoric,” she told the podcast, produced by the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. To tackle structural racism at its roots, Umemoto called for educating schoolchildren about the history and contributions of Asian Americans so that they are no longer considered the “perpetual foreigner.”

Umemoto’s Team Addresses Language Barrier in Vaccine Access

Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to KCRW about the website Translate COVID, which provides information about COVID-19 in over 60 languages. Launched in May 2020, the site has been updated over the past few months with vital information about vaccination rules and eligibility. “We noticed that there was a lot of translated material beginning to come out from the CDC and local health departments across the country, but there was no central or easy-to-use site that consolidated all of that information,” Umemoto explained. “There’s so much misinformation on social media and especially within immigrant networks.” Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, worked with the Fielding School of Public Health to aggregate information from vetted sources and organized it on the website. “More recently, we noticed that there was a lot of misinformation about the vaccines that would likely cause some vaccine resistance, so we put together an FAQ that will soon be in 20 languages,” she said.


Umemoto on Preserving Asian American History

Karen Umemoto, urban planning professor and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, was featured in an NBC News article about the role of ethnic studies programs in preserving Asian American history. Many of the activists who led the Asian American movement in the 1960s for representation in politics, scholarship and culture are now passing away. The loss has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re at an important point in history where we have to record their stories,” Umemoto said. “There are so many rich life lessons that we can learn from their involvement in movements for social change.” It has been more than 50 years since the first Asian American studies curricula were established in California colleges, but only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer degrees in the field. Even within those programs, the story of the Asian American civil rights movement and the people who built it is often given short shrift, Umemoto said.


Urban Planning Faculty Spearhead Mass Incarceration Archive Project

Urban Planning Professors Kelly Lytle Hernández and Karen Umemoto as well as incoming Urban Planning Assistant Professor Marques Vestal are collaborating on a new initiative to create an archive on policing and mass incarceration in Los Angeles. The project, called “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration,” aims to collect, digitize and preserve a sustainable archive of data, testimonies, artifacts and police files for the next generation of research on racial and social justice. “The new platform will catapult our centers into the digital future in knowledge-sharing and knowledge production,” said Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The archive will build off the work of the UCLA-based Million Dollar Hoods research project, a community-driven initiative that began in 2016 to quantify the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. Scholars from UCLA ethnic studies centers and the Million Dollar Hoods project will train UCLA students to work with the digital archives. “This new collaboration between Million Dollar Hoods and UCLA’s ethnic studies centers will preserve the documentary evidence of mass incarceration and its impact on people’s lives in Los Angeles while building a new digital bedrock for racial justice scholars and scholarship at UCLA,” said Lytle Hernández, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. The project will encompass research across several communities of color, highlighting ways in which they are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration” is made possible by funding from a three-year, $3.65 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.