A new UCLA-USC study that took a deep dive into how Los Angeles County tenants are handling rent and finances during the COVID-19 health crisis was covered by media outlets including the Orange County Register. Since the start of the pandemic, landlords have argued that tenants who were shielded from possible eviction would refuse to pay rent, the article noted. In fact, while the study showed that many have struggled to make rent, most tenants have not used the pandemic as an excuse to take a rent holiday, according to the study conducted by scholars from UCLA Luskin’s Lewis Center for Regional Studies and USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. One factor measured in the study was the impact of direct assistance to renters who need it. The findings showed that tenants collecting unemployment insurance were 39% less likely to miss rent payments. The report’s findings were also highlighted in Courthouse News, Commercial Observer and Pasadena Now.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in an LAist article discussing a Burbank rent control measure headed for the ballot in November. Supporters collected 7,749 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, but it has been met with resistance by Burbank’s elected officials. “Calls for rent control in more places have probably gotten louder and more consistent,” Lens said. “Policymakers are paying more serious attention to [rent control] as kind of an emergency response to these various rental affordability crises.” He explained that politicians often look less favorably on rent control measures than their constituents because landlords have more political power than their tenants. According to Lens, rent control is considered a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of solution.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s decision to sue the city of Los Angeles over real estate developments related to Councilman Jose Huizar, who has been charged with bribery, money laundering and racketeering. The lawsuit aims to block at least four city projects tied to Huizar and former Councilman Mitchell Englander that have allegedly violated California’s Political Reform Act. The AIDS nonprofit has been vocal on housing and development issues in the state. Some critics questioned whether the new lawsuit was an attempt by the foundation to slow or stop local development, regardless of its merits. Lens, who opposed a 2017 ballot measure championed by the foundation to crack down on “mega projects,” told the Los Angeles Times that “this seems to be a convenient excuse for them to say, once again, ‘We need to stop development.’”
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the benefits of affordable housing following the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s announcement that it would repeal the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation. Implemented by the Obama administration, the provision required cities receiving federal housing aid to develop plans to address patterns of segregation or risk losing money. The new regulation under the Trump administration would allow local governments more latitude in deciding if their policies were racially discriminatory. Recent studies have found that affordable housing developments led to crime reductions in low-income areas and had no effect in higher-income neighborhoods. “The infinitesimal risk of increased crime as a result of increased ‘affordable’ or multifamily housing in U.S. suburbs is massively outweighed by the benefits to those actually housed, and other benefits of reducing concentrated poverty,” Lens said.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a New York Times article discussing the importance of inclusion and equity in reshaping public spaces. Many cities have rapidly transformed urban spaces in response to the pandemic, including new bike routes and more space for outdoor dining. However, many urban planning experts worry that these projects favor some residents and neighborhoods over others. The people who show up for public meetings designed to encourage community engagement tend to be older, whiter, higher-income and homeowners with the time and motivation to show up. As a result, pandemic infrastructure projects have largely left out poorer residents and racial minorities, many of whom are wary of police violence or community surveillance on city streets. “We need to either reduce the power that the white, high-income areas have, increase the power that communities of color and low-income communities have, or do both,” Lens argued.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, moderated the July 6 webinar “Buying Black: Reframing Urbanism and Economics,” a conversation with three experts on the intersection of consumer behavior, city planning and efforts to dismantle systemic racism. A virtual audience of more than 350 tuned in to hear the dialogue on the importance of generating economic opportunities within the Black community. Author and advocate Maggie Anderson, CEO of the Empowerment Experiment Foundation, challenged viewers to make a commitment to supporting Black-owned businesses, saying, “We cannot keep fighting against racism in the streets with our protests if we’re going to keep enabling racism in the stores with our purchases.” A Kouture, president of the International Black Restaurant and Hospitality Association, described her efforts to use data on Black commerce to win support from investors, developers and government agencies in metropolitan areas around the country. And Matthew Miller, a cultural geographer at the University of Pennsylvania, described his research into Black business corridors, including in South Los Angeles, which are “not just a place for job creation and wealth accumulation” but also “community anchors for people to confront marginalization both within the Black community and outside of it.” Said Lens, “We are at this amazing and painful moment of racial awakening. Everybody’s lining up to make statements and say nice things, but we have long gotten past the point at which specific, concrete actions need to be made.” The panelists planned to reconnect to plan further collaboration following the webinar, which can be viewed on demand or on Facebook.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Dear Pandemic about housing market factors that are affecting how the pandemic is unfolding. Lens said he worries about the “short- and immediate-term losses of income of people who were already very tenuously housed.” For many families already spending huge amounts of their income on rent, the loss of one or two paychecks can mean being foreclosed on or evicted. While short-term policy interventions in the form of income and unemployment support and eviction moratoria have been implemented, they generally do not cancel or lower rent. Lens asked, “What happens when the eviction moratoria are lifted and people are still not able to pay?” In the short term, people must be sheltered without sinking into debt or losing their savings. In the long term, Lens said, the systemic problems of the housing crisis must be fixed.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a CalMatters article discussing how crowded housing exacerbates the spread of COVID-19. Neighborhoods with large numbers of people per household have about 3.7 times the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents as neighborhoods where few residents live in tight quarters. “The problem has increased in the past decade as neighborhoods have gentrified, pushing rents to rise astronomically,” Lens explained. In some neighborhoods in Los Angeles, two in every five households are overcrowded. A report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy estimated that 365,000 households in Los Angeles County are at high risk of being forced out of their homes when the statewide freeze on evictions is lifted, which will push them into even more crowded conditions. “Absent some unexpected interventions and generosity … of course people are just going to be way less able to afford housing,” Lens said.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Atlantic about the real meaning of “defunding the police.” In addition to dealing with violent crime, many officers are responsible for handling traffic accidents and low-level arrests. Modern policing often involves interacting with people showing signs of mental illness or alcoholism, but the article noted that officers are under-trained to intervene in these cases. Police also serve as “front-line workers for urban homelessness,” Lens explained. “A person who is unhoused interacts constantly with the police, but officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with the issues that those people are dealing with.” The article recommended that cities spend money on homelessness directly, instead of making police responsible for homelessness intervention in addition to other services. Programs in Eugene, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have “unbundled” police services, instead dispatching medics and mental health counselors to homeless people or others in distress.