Housing Shortage Persists Despite Population Decline

UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens spoke to the Los Angeles Times for an article explaining why California housing prices have defied the laws of supply and demand, with mortgages and rents remaining stubbornly high even though the state’s population has declined in recent years. One reason is that, for decades, the pace of housing production did not keep up with demand, creating a backlog made even more enormous by the surge of Millennials now seeking to enter the housing market. “The cost of living in California and Los Angeles is so high … that we know a lot of people can’t move here and we know a lot of people can’t remain here, because they are priced out,” said Lens, a professor of urban planning and public policy.


Lens on Housing Density Reforms in Los Angeles

Associate Professor Michael Lens wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times on housing and land use reform in Los Angeles. Lens argues that L.A.’s geographic sprawl can be beneficial in terms of balancing housing density “that works for Californians.” Land use laws that discourage building for density can be reformed to provide alternatives to single-family neighborhoods by re-framing planning for housing around job-rich, medium-density urban hubs. “This does not necessarily mean obliterating the urban forms and communities that have been built in the past century. But without some densification, we’ll keep pushing people and development into the Inland Empire and other outlying areas (which is already happening),” he wrote. The result is “more punishing commutes and, in all likelihood, still expensive housing.” Lens also was quoted in an L.A. Times article about landlords’ objections to a continuing rent freeze, saying the pandemic sent policymakers “reaching for the emergency button,” but now the city should look at policies like expanding housing subsidies rather than extending the freeze.


Lens on L.A.’s Skyrocketing Home Prices

A Los Angeles Times article and KNX News report on L.A.’s soaring housing prices turned to UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens for context. The newspaper reported that the median home price in Los Angeles had risen to just under $1 million, a 30% increase over the past five years. “Even if it is an arbitrary number, it’s an astounding one,” said Lens, chair of the Luskin School’s undergraduate program and a scholar of urban planning and public policy. Driven by scarcity and demand, the rising prices also impact the rental market, Lens said – but he added that state programs to increase the overall housing stock are falling short. His proposed solutions included “getting rid of single-family zoning and upzoning those neighborhoods,” removing “onerous parking requirements,” and scrapping rules on minimum setbacks and other burdensome mandates. Altogether, the state should fix “a lot of boring zoning things that together make the cost of building more housing more expensive,” Lens said.


What Does Subsidized Housing in L.A. Need? ‘More of Everything,’ Lens Says


Lens on the Population Exodus in Northern California

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a stark population decline in California, specifically in cities in Northern California. Factors such as the Bay Area’s tech-rich economy have led to an increase in remote work, resulting in an exodus of employees to less expensive locales. “Hundreds of thousands more people would desire to live in the Bay Area — if not millions — and Southern California if we made it easier to accommodate those people through more housing units and presumably more affordable housing,” Lens said. Many remote areas saw an influx of people, but Lens noted that an increase in housing is mostly needed in major cities. Urban centers can grow more efficiently, he said, adding that moving to places with lower population densities could also lead to longer commutes.


Lens on California’s Housing Boom, Population Decline

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about an increase in housing construction during the pandemic along with a decline in population in California. “When it takes a decade of really massive economic growth in this state for housing production to catch up to the pre-recession levels, that says as much about the depths of our production crisis as it does about some kind of recent victory,” Lens said. He went on to explain that housing unaffordability and the pandemic played significant roles in reducing population growth in recent years, but the state has a long way to go to meet its housing needs. “We expect more equitable and more productive housing construction over the next decade,” he said, “but it’s going to take some time and take some diligence on the part of the state.”


Lens on L.A.’s Unused Housing Vouchers

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin, spoke to ABC7 News about unused housing vouchers in Los Angeles. The process to get a Section 8 voucher includes a long wait within a lottery system. More than 58,000 subsidized housing units and housing vouchers are available in Los Angeles, but only 85% of them are being used. Some landlords exclude tenants who use Section 8 vouchers, and city officials say this has contributed to the unhoused crisis. As Lens explained, “You have to find a rental unit at or below the fair market rent. The landlord, very importantly, has to agree to participate in the program, which means that they don’t have biases against people that are using government money. So there are these things that get in the way.”


Lens on Mixed Results of Efforts to Combat Housing Segregation

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, co-authored a Health Affairs policy brief about the effectiveness of different programs designed to combat residential segregation. Over more than a century, exclusionary policies embedded in land use and housing codes have kept Americans separated by race, ethnicity and income, leading to significant health disparities. The authors review the historical impact of several interventions, including housing vouchers that allow residents to move to more advantaged neighborhoods; local and state policies to expand the housing stock by increasing density in resource-rich communities or redeveloping public housing; and federal legislation and regulations to compel fair housing practices. “There are many policies, programs, laws and lawsuits that have tried to chip away at segregation in America’s cities and towns,” but many have been underfunded or deprioritized, the authors wrote. While some progress has been made, they conclude that the fight against residential segregation has yet to see consequential gains.


Lens on Desirability of California Living Amid Climate Disasters

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was cited in an ABC News article weighing whether California remains a desirable place to live or visit as extreme weather takes its toll. Despite the constant risk of fire, flooding, earthquakes and drought, the state continues to attract residents and vacationers. Lens, who researches inequities in the housing market, noted that the rising cost of buying or renting a home is one indicator of California’s desirability. “That’s certainly part of why the cost of living is so high we like living there,” he said. While some residents are relocating to more affordable states, most are choosing to stay put. The story noted that California home prices have continued their steep ascent even in the wake of devastating natural disasters.


Lens on More Renters as Elected Officials in L.A.

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was interviewed by NPR about a shifting trend in the demographics of elected officials in Los Angeles, where more are identifying as renters as opposed to homeowners. Residents of Los Angeles rank housing affordability as one of their biggest concerns, with 30% of renters spending over 50% of their income on rent. As more renters are elected to office, they may do a better job of representing the voices of fellow renters who have gone unheard for years. Lens explained that attempts to diversify politics in Los Angeles have in the past focused on race, gender and sexuality. The renter demographic has not been represented until recent elections. “It does, I think, matter to have representation along that axis,” Lens said. “It’s a pretty fundamental part of who we are and how we live in a city.”