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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“The Hussle Is Real,” a conversation inspired by the life and work of Nipsey Hussle, was held May 14 at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event, organized by the student-run Luskin Black Caucus and UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare Diversity Committee, included presentations by Latoya Small, assistant professor of social welfare; Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Marcus Hunter, associate professor of sociology and chair of African American Studies at UCLA. The discussion went beyond the “gangster-rapper” label to examine Hussle’s contributions to the community and impact in the context of public affairs and urban space. “When you think about Nipsey Hussle, it’s not just the gangster rap, it’s also the entrepreneurship,” Small said. “He didn’t rent a shop, he purchased the building. He hired people that were undesirable to others and talked about promoting commerce … and building business legitimately.” Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, provided “numbers and history” on South L.A.’s environment and long legacy of segregation to provide a framework for Hussle’s community work. “Nipsey was the embodiment of the power to affect positive change from the ground up, and his death undoubtedly leaves a hole,” Lens said of the rapper, who was slain in March. Hussle, who was born in 1985, during America’s “War on Drugs” era and its aftermath, was a survivor, Hunter said. He played samples of Hussle’s music, asking the audience to “consider what questions come up when you meditate on Nipsey’s contributions and tragic murder.” View photos of the event on Flickr.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, expressed his support for Senate Bill 50 in a Los Angeles Daily News article about the controversial bill. If passed, SB50 would override local restrictions against multi-family housing, allowing developers to construct larger buildings or condos near transportation hubs in a process known as upzoning. Many have expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that it would destroy neighborhoods without necessarily addressing housing affordability. Critics of SB50 argue that there is little empirical evidence to support the relationship between upzoning, increased construction and lower housing prices. Lens points to the long-standing trend of downzoning to protect single-family neighborhoods, arguing that “there is an absence of evidence mainly because we don’t have a lot of experience upzoning anything like this.” In defense of SB50, Lens explains that he “doesn’t believe it’s his right to guarantee that a building down the street isn’t multi-family housing.”
A CityLab article about a state bill aimed at easing California’s housing crisis cited UCLA Luskin faculty and research. The bill, SB 50, would loosen zoning restrictions to permit more housing units near jobs and transit. A diverse mix of Californians — residents of rich suburbs, neighborhoods fighting gentrification and struggling farm towns — have weighed in on both sides of the bill. UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty also offered competing perspectives. Associate Professor Michael Lens commented, “Homeowners generally benefit from scarcity. So pulling some of the zoning powers away from cities seems like something to consider to reduce those negative incentives.” Professor Michael Storper offered a counterpoint, noting that “some of the most diverse communities in California are made up of suburban-style, single-family homes.” The article also cited a Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report showing that the state does not have the planned capacity to meet its housing construction goals.