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.”


UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall Returns

UCLA Luskin is back at Los Angeles City Hall. Following a hiatus in the annual event caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, students from the School’s three graduate programs — Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning — traveled downtown Feb. 24 to meet, interview and learn from local leaders from government, nonprofit agencies and the community. This year, Los Angeles City Council member Nithya Raman hosted the group, led by Luskin faculty advisor Michael Lens, on the topic “Homelessness Governance Reform — Service-Led Models, Building More Housing, Better County-City Collaboration.”It’s important to see the economic constraints, the practical constraints, the political constraints that our elected officials and our policymakers operate under,” said Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin. Also important, Lens said, is that “the big ideas and plans we talked about in class — about what ‘Professor Lens’ thinks that the city should do tomorrow — just isn’t so easy to do.” He tasked students to take information from the day, co-sponsored by UCLA Government and Community Relations, and ask how to apply it to the real world. For Raman, getting people off the streets involves talking to, and building relationships of trust with, people experiencing homelessness. “You have to go out there and understand who they are, what brought them to the streets, and to ensure that they believe you when you say, ‘I have something to offer you that will help address exactly what brought you here and help bring you indoors,’ ” said Raman, who will receive a written memorandum of findings and policy recommendations from the students.

View more photos from the day on Flickr

UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall 2023


Lens on L.A.’s Urgent Need to Construct More Housing

A Los Angeles Times op-ed written by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, argues that stemming the flow of people into homelessness requires building more housing of all types, including market-rate. With homelessness as her top priority, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass has declared a state of emergency allowing her to expand the supply of temporary shelters and subsidized housing. Lens writes that these short-term solutions are not adequate to address the overarching problem that has driven up housing costs, and worsened homelessness, in Los Angeles: We do not build enough homes. Pointing to research showing that L.A. built fewer housing units in the 2010s than each of the two previous decades, Lens urged city officials to increase housing density in single-family and higher-income neighborhoods, among other recommendations. “If we don’t build more housing of all types, we are sustaining homelessness, not solving it,” he writes. 


A Historic Leadership Transition in L.A.

Media covering the swearing-in of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass spoke to experts from UCLA Luskin about the historic leadership transition. “Los Angeles is a city at a crossroads,” Sonja Diaz, executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, told the Washington Post, noting that Bass must deal with great increases in housing insecurity, food insecurity and economy inequality. Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to LAist about hurdles Bass is likely to face, including resistance to zoning changes that could ease construction of various types of housing. And Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, wrote a CalMatters commentary about Bass’ tenure as a test for Democrats in California and nationally. Newton also spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about the historic arc of Los Angeles’ mayors, their scope of authority and leadership styles.


Monkkonen, Lens on Flawed Approach to Fair Housing Compliance

A Policies for Action article co-authored by UCLA Luskin faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens assessed California’s bumpy implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, part of the U.S. Fair Housing Act. The rule, which sets out a framework for local governments and agencies to take decisive steps to promote fair housing, was codified into California law in 2018. Research by Lens and Monkkonen, along with co-author Moira O’Neill of UC Berkeley, found a lack of political will to comply with the law in some jurisdictions and a lack of clarity on the state’s expectations. The authors write, “Is it enough to do ‘better’? Given the deeply entrenched segregation in U.S. land-use plans, the reforms we’ve observed are not sufficient to achieve the ‘integrated and balanced living patterns’ envisioned by the Fair Housing Act.” They called on the state to create binding minimum expectations, including the use of metrics to track progress toward the goal of desegregated cities.