The Los Angeles Times spoke to Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Mark Vestal for a column about the growing issue of homelessness in Los Angeles. Experts estimate that there are at least 60,000 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles and as many as 365,000 renting households on the brink of eviction. While most Angelenos agree that homelessness is a pressing issue, they disagree on whether it is a property rights issue or a human rights issue, which makes it difficult to find a solution. “The history of homelessness testifies to the futility of trying to find solutions that average these two perspectives,” Vestal said. Enforcing property rights on people experiencing homelessness only creates more obstacles to ending homelessness. “You can’t just criminalize a condition that people can’t cure,” Vestal said. “These problems that we have created — they are all intimately tied up with the good things we thought we were making of our society.”
Marques Vestal is a postdoctoral scholar and incoming Assistant Professor of Critical Black Urbanism. He serves as a Faculty Advisor for Million Dollar Hoods, a community-driven and multidisciplinary initiative documenting the human and fiscal costs of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. He also serves as a historical consultant for the Luskin Center for History and Policy. Marques is a tenant of Los Angeles and a member of the South Central local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.
Marques is an urban historian studying the social history of residential property in Black Los Angeles during the rebellious twentieth century. His work links property conflict—the everyday contracts, solicitations, complaints, lawsuits, and murders over property—to broader transformations of real estate, urban development, and Black liberation. He argues that this space of incessant conflict is the unwritten housing policy of the United States.
Marques’ research interests are broad, but center on the twentieth-century experience of a few key political relations to land: property, housing insecurity, municipal incapacity, and racial capitalism. Having witnessed, archivally and firsthand, the violence of Los Angeles’ rental housing markets, he is dedicated to projects that advance social housing and horizontal tenant governance.
Marques Vestal and Andrew Klein, “What we should have learned from L.A.’s long history of homelessness,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-02-22/homelessness-encampments-shelter-los-angeles-history
Kirsten Moore-Sheeley et. al. “The Making of a Crisis: A History of Homelessness in Los Angeles,” UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. https://luskincenter.history.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/66/2021/01/LCHP-The-Making-of-A-Crisis-Report.pdf. (February 2021)
Lytle Hernandez, Kelly and Marques Vestal. “Million Dollar Hoods: A Fully-Loaded Cost Accounting of Mass Incarceration in Los Angeles,” Radical History Review. http://www.radicalhistoryreview.org/
Katz, Alisa with Peter Chesney, Lindsay King, and Marques Vestal. “People Are Simply Unable to Pay Rent: What History Tells Us About Rent Control in Los Angeles,” White Paper. Luskin Center for History and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles. (October 2018)
Marques Vestal, incoming assistant professor of urban planning, co-authored a Los Angeles Times opinion piece about lessons the region can learn from its long history of grappling with homelessness. One key to finding a durable solution to the housing crisis is recognizing the power of self-determination among the unhoused, wrote Vestal and Andrew Klein, members of a research team that produced a report on the history of homelessness in Los Angeles for the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. “Homeless people are actors and make decisions on their own behalf that city policy cannot fully control,” the authors wrote, encouraging support for this self-determination instead of focusing on top-down strategies. They called on leaders to advance grass-roots homebuilding initiatives and ensure access to water, bathrooms, trash collection and other services in existing encampments. “Without dignified and healthful alternatives, encampments will continue to serve as homes for thousands of marginalized people, as they have now for over a century.”
A documentary about the growing movement to cancel student debt, co-produced by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) and released by The Intercept, features insights from the Luskin School’s faculty and staff. “You Are Not a Loan” shares the experiences of activists, academics and debt-burdened students as they strategize across class and cultural lines to bring about the right to free college for all. The film was shot in February 2020 following an II&D- hosted conference urging a fresh vision for financing higher education. Within weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down campuses nationwide, stepping up the urgency to create an equitable system of education. Joining the conversation are II&D Associate Faculty Director Hannah Appel and Deputy Director Marisa Lemorande, as well as Marques Vestal, who will join the School’s urban planning faculty in June. Vestal will also take part in a Jan. 30 virtual Q&A about the documentary as part of the Sundance Film Festival.