Lens on Surprising Decline in Evictions

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to CalMatters for a story about a California housing crisis mystery: There has been a major run-up in rents, and delinquent payments are the most common reason a landlord sues to remove tenants from their property. Yet the state has seen an unexpected decline in eviction filings. The article cited Lens’ research into what made one Southern California neighborhood more likely than another to see landlords initiate formal evictions, with surprising findings on the impact of gentrification. “The conventional wisdom is that landlords will be more aggressive in trying to push people out … when they think they can get somebody who will pay more,” Lens said. “But that’s not what we find, on the court side of things.” Instead the factors that had a strong correlation with eviction filings were whether a neighborhood was very poor or was largely African American, Lens found.

Creating ‘Home’ in a City of Renters Panel discussion at UCLA Luskin highlights L.A. rental protections

Amid California’s ongoing housing and affordability crisis, numerous efforts are underway to protect tenants. But, they’re only as good as the enforcement behind them, as was made clear at a recent UCLA Luskin event.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed various tenant protections into law, including establishing statewide rent stabilization and just-cause eviction protections, and prohibiting discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers. Locally, other proposals like a right to counsel are being considered.

At the same time, numerous reports of landlords scurrying to evict tenants or drastically raise their rents before the new law goes into effect Jan. 1 have prompted cities across the state to enact emergency moratoriums.

Evictions, tenant protections and enforcement were among the topics at the Nov. 20 event designed to highlight the state’s persistent problem. “Eviction and Code Enforcement: Making Rental Housing ‘Home’” was part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series co-hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Speakers included Michael Lens, associate faculty director at the Lewis Center, Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of Housing Rights Center, and chief inspector Robert Galardi with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department which oversees multifamily rental units.

Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said academic research into evictions has not kept pace with community activists.

“This is an area in which advocates and tenants’ rights groups have been working, agitating and talking about the plight of people who have been displaced from their homes for a very long time,” he said.

Part of the reason academia might be behind is that eviction data are hard to come by. “Data is spotty and incomplete. We have some very specific data on evictions that doesn’t give you every type of eviction,” Lens said.

In a forthcoming research paper, Lens and his team reviewed more than 700,000 court-based eviction cases in Southern California between 2005 and 2015 to ascertain what types of neighborhoods see more evictions. They found that neighborhoods with higher populations of African Americans and higher poverty rates saw high rates of eviction.

A separate study currently underway is focusing on two types of evictions in Los Angeles — court-based evictions and no-fault, otherwise known as Ellis Act eviction petitions.

The L.A. study has not produced as consistent a story because Ellis Act evictions are harder to predict, Lens said. Regardless, city and county officials should be monitoring these data on a regular basis to focus on what neighborhoods are seeing growth in evictions, he added.

Al-Mansour of Housing Rights Center helped the audience to understand the human impact of these evictions.

She shared the story of an African American client who had been using Section 8 vouchers for housing for 20 years in South LA. When new owners took over the building, they issued a 90-day eviction notice to everyone using the vouchers. It took her client longer than anticipated to find someplace that would accept her voucher, but she lost her new unit when the paperwork failed to arrive after being mistakenly sent to the old address. She quickly went from living in her car to living on the streets and suffering abuse.

“She’s now suffering from severe mental trauma and will be very, very hard to house,” Al-Mansour said. “If this law would have been in effect 18 months earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Al-Mansour also shared information about various rights held by tenants, including a right to withhold rent to ensure habitable premises. She also discussed a variety of landlord disclosure laws that could nullify a rental contract when violated.

“Oftentimes, people don’t know their rights; they just know something is wrong,” she said, adding that those in the audience should be ambassadors and share what they’re learning with their neighbors and communities.

Los Angeles, where 70% of people rent, has one of the strongest code enforcement programs. Unlike other cities, L.A. enforces penalties against owners for citations and violations.

Started in 1997, the city’s code enforcement program proactively inspects all multifamily rental units in the city every few years.

Galardi gave an overview of the city’s inspection program, which is housed in the Housing and Community Investment Department. More than 100,000 rental properties comprise about 850,000 multifamily rental units in the city. The program’s goal is to inspect each unit once every four years, but the department looks more often at some high-risk units that have had issues and citations during previous inspections, Galardi said.

“The benefit of this program for tenants is that this is a proactive inspection,” Galardi said. “That takes the burden off the tenant in terms of [fear of] retaliation, which is a big concern for renters in the city.”

Code enforcement also builds in follow-up visits to ensure that necessary repairs are addressed by landlords.

As a mechanism of tenant protection, Galardi said code enforcement inspectors are the “boots on the ground going to the units” and raising awareness among tenants about their rights.

To view a recording of the event, visit the Lewis Center’s YouTube page.

View additional photos on the UCLA Luskin Flickr channel:

 

Housing, Equity and Community Series

How America Became ‘the World’s Largest Jailer’ James Forman Jr. traces the rise of 'warrior policing' in a UCLA Luskin Lecture centering on his Pulitzer-winning book

By Mary Braswell

For more than three decades, the United States has imprisoned its people at a higher rate than any other nation, so Yale University law professor James Forman Jr. understands how individuals might feel powerless to change that reality.

“When we look at something as awful as the largest prison system in the world, it can be easy to think about it as somebody else’s problem to solve,” Forman said during a Nov. 7 UCLA Luskin Lecture at the California African American Museum. “But we all have to think about what we can do individually and then collectively in response.”

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, former public defender and co-founder of an alternative school for incarcerated youth shared insights into the complicated evolution of U.S. criminal justice over the last half-century. Key turning points came in the 1960s and 1980s, when heroin and crack epidemics devastated communities of color and led to an era of “warrior policing,” he said.

Forman urged the audience to take tangible steps to turn the tide. Vote. Don’t skip out on jury duty. Find the time and energy to work for a cause close to your heart.

His appearance as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series wove historical research with stories of his childhood as the son of civil rights pioneers, an interracial couple at a time when such marriages were illegal in much of the country.

“The notion that we would be critical or skeptical of government authority that was purporting to act in the name of public safety but was actually harming people is something that I just grew up on,” Forman said.

He has spent much of his career investigating how the United States “earned the dishonor of being the world’s largest jailer.” Part of the answer, he found, lies in grave missteps by African American leaders with the best of intentions — the subject of his acclaimed 2017 book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

Forman found that African Americans who came to power during the drug wars of decades past did not have adequate resources to protect their communities and became over-reliant on police, prosecutors and aggressive tactics.

“We were passing the same laws, the same stop-and-frisk, the same mandatory minimums, the same school-to-prison pipeline. And we were getting the same results,” he said.

Then and now, actions of officials at the local level have enduring consequences, he said.

“It’s crucial that we look at the small steps, the hidden steps, the often invisible steps, some of them made by well-intentioned people,” he said. “Those individual decisions are the bricks that collectively have built the prison nation that America has become.”

Mass incarceration is fundamentally a local issue, Forman said, noting that 88 percent of prisoners in the country are in state, county and local prisons and jails.

“California and Texas together, just two states, have more people incarcerated than the entire federal government,” he said. “Los Angeles County all by itself is responsible for one-third of the people who are incarcerated in the state of California.

“So where we sit right now, this is ground zero in the fight against mass incarceration because this is one of the most incarcerated counties in one of the most incarcerated states in the most incarcerated country in the world. So we have some work to do right here in Los Angeles.”

Forman called on the audience to turn out for March elections for Los Angeles County district attorney, pointing to a trend he has seen over the last five years: In city after city, a new generation of progressive prosecutors has been voted into office, he said.

And he urged those present to understand their own power to bring about change. “For most of us we need to start where we live, we need to start with what we love,” he said.

For Forman, that means eradicating the “education deserts” found inside the criminal justice system. In 1997, he helped launch the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which is now housed inside Washington, D.C.,’s juvenile prison. More recently, he has offered a seminar in which 10 law students and 10 Connecticut inmates come together behind prison walls to study criminal justice, part of a program called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange.

His “outside students” from Yale and Quinnipiac universities are exposed to a corrections system they might never otherwise see. The benefits for “inside students” are borne out by research showing that recidivism goes down and employment goes up — and by their own testimonials.

One of Forman’s incarcerated students told him he valued the “feeling of mattering.”

The student, he recounted, said, “I liked the law and the policy that we learned in this class, I did. … But really what I liked most of all was that every week when I came to class and I entered the seminar circle, I knew that I was entering a space where I was treated like I was smart, where I was treated like I had something to say.”  

Forman urged the Luskin Lecture audience to embrace their own ideas for creating “a justice system that deserves to have the word justice in the title.” By doing so, he said, “You will create a system that protects and heals and reforms and mends communities, without all this toxicity and brutality of our current system.”

Forman shared the stage with Michael Lens, assistant professor of public policy and urban planning, who led a conversation after the talk, and Professor Máximo Langer of UCLA Law, who offered closing comments. Langer is faculty director of the UCLA Criminal Justice Program, which co-sponsored the Luskin Lecture along with the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the evening’s guests, noting that the Exposition Park venue was chosen to “get us out in the community, to address questions, issues, thoughts, ideas that are important considerations in matters of public concern … so that we might learn from one another.”

View photos from Forman’s lecture on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Lecture Series: James Forman Jr.

Lens on Governor’s Struggle to Meet Housing Goals

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a Los Angeles Times article describing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lack of progress on his goals to tackle California’s housing crisis. While Newsom’s campaign platform included plans for the construction of 3.5 million new homes by 2025 and a Marshall Plan for affordable housing, critics have pointed out that the state still faces a shortage of 1.7 million affordable rental homes. Newsom’s largest success so far has been a new statewide cap preventing large rent increases, and he argues that he remains committed to fixing California’s housing problems. Nevertheless, the state’s homelessness crisis has become even more pressing since Newsom took office. “It seems like a pretty meaningful failure — either a failure of commitment or a failure of effort,” Lens said. 


Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Lens Weighs In on Rent Control Bill

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Curbed LA about Assembly Bill 1482, which would bar most property owners in California from increasing rent more than 7 percent, plus the cost of inflation, in one year. The bill would also require landlords to have just cause, such as failure to pay rent, when terminating a lease. “We’re definitely at a time more tenant protection in California generally — and especially L.A., San Francisco and other hot markets — is necessary,” Lens said. Advocates say the bill, if enacted, would protect up to 4 million Californians from rent gouging and arbitrary eviction. Opponents say it could deter developers from building at all. Lens pointed out that the 7 percent cap on rent hikes may be too high to have significant impact. “There’s a really small number of homes in which a landlord in a given year is even mulling a 10 percent hike,” he said.


 

Lens on Tenant Advocates’ Tough Fight

Los Angeles Magazine spoke with Michael Lens, associate professor of urban studies and public policy, for an article about California’s repeated failure to adopt significant housing reforms. While the tenant rights movement has scored successes at the local level, lobbyists for the real estate industry and corporate landlords have stymied broader protections, the article noted. “It’s always a difficult fight to win from the standpoint of tenants’ rights organization,” Lens said. “There’s obviously a disadvantage of resources.”

Elected Officials Blocked Progress on Housing, Monkkonen Says

The Los Angeles Times spoke with UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen about a vote by the Southern California Association of Governments to restrict residential building in the region. The decision undercuts Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge to build 3.5 million new homes to ease California’s affordable housing shortage, the article noted. “What happened was emblematic of what’s been happening with housing planning for decades in California,” said Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. “A group of elected officials firmly committed to opposing change — in this case building more housing of any type in their city — used a seemingly technical process to block progress.” The story cited a 2013 study that found no clear link between Section 8 voucher holders and increased neighborhood crime — a connection sometimes cited by residents who object to construction of affordable housing in their neighborhoods. That study was conducted by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy.


 

Manville, Lens and Monkkonen on ‘the Consequences of Inaction’

A CityLab article on housing supply as a hot-button issue delved into the robust debate around the best strategies to make shelter affordable. Los Angeles is the epicenter of the housing crisis, and UCLA Luskin urban planning scholars have conducted extensive research on the issue, with varying conclusions. The article described arguments made for and against upzoning, which would increase the housing stock by lifting regulatory limits on density. In an earlier article, Professor Michael Storper cast doubt on the effectiveness of such policies. In rebuttal, three of his UCLA Luskin colleagues, Associate Professors Michael Manville, Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen, authored an essay pointing to studies that support upzoning. “When every neighborhood acts to preserve itself, soon the city is mired in regulation, and rents and prices rise,” they wrote. “Were regulations relaxed, these places would have more housing, and price increases would first slow and eventually fall.” They concluded, “The consequences of inaction also matter.”


 

Affordable Housing Is Not an Easy Fix, Lens Says

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, evaluated proposed solutions to the affordable housing crisis, including those put forward by Democratic presidential candidates. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have proposed offering tax credits to help tenants pay rent. Opponents argue that such vouchers will not change the number of housing units available and could even spur landlords to raise rents. On KCRW’s Left, Right & Center, Lens said tax credits are just one of a wide variety of tools and interventions needed to address the complex problem. These include stronger tenant protections and more publicly subsidized housing, he said. “This is not a problem that lends itself to an easy fix,” said Lens,  associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. The podcast segment featuring Lens begins at the 34-minute mark.