Protecting Renters in Los Angeles

California’s housing crisis is hitting renters hard. With rents fast increasing in Los Angeles, many people are scared. Whether they fear rent increases that push housing costs out of reach or being scared that improvements to the building mean a rent increase is imminent, the rental market can scary. California is known for strong tenant protections, but existing state laws like the Ellis Act (evicting tenants to convert buildings to ownership) or Costa-Hawkins Act (not allowing new construction to be under rent control) weakens these tenant protections. What’s the appetite for reforming these laws? How are they currently affecting residents in Los Angeles? What can be done to put renters in Los Angeles on a more stable foundation?

Speakers:

  • Joan Ling MA UP ’82, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • Tony Samara, Urban Habitat

Moderator:

  • Mike Lens, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

Lunch Provided. RSVP at https://protectingrenters.eventbrite.com

Lending a Helping Hand Panel discussion at UCLA Luskin highlights what is and isn’t being done to serve the burgeoning homeless population in L.A. County

By Zev Hurwitz

With nearly 60,000 Angelenos struggling with homelessness, local change agents have taken on the task of developing policies and services to address the crisis.

At a Nov. 15, 2017, panel discussion at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, four leaders in the field discussed the challenges and opportunities in finding solutions for the plethora of Los Angeles residents who do not have access to permanent housing.

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning at the Luskin School, moderated the “Homelessness in Los Angeles” event. Other participants were Jerry Ramirez, manager of Los Angeles County’s homeless initiative; Dora Leon Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends; Jordan Vega, a current UCLA student and a director of Bruin Shelter, a registered student organization; and Skid Row resident Suzette Shaw.

Lens began the lunch program by noting some alarming homelessness statistics and emphasizing the importance of having the conversation.

“Many of us are familiar with the fact that homelessness is very much on the rise in Los Angeles County,” he said. “In January of 2017, volunteers counted over 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across L.A. County, which is a 23 percent rise over the previous year.”

Lens pointed out that 34,000 of those people are in the City of Los Angeles. Within the city, 25,000 homeless are living “unsheltered” and 11,000 fell into the category of “chronically homeless.

“These are large numbers historically, and they’re large numbers for any city,” he said.

Gallo’s organization, A Community of Friends, works with the local government and other non-profits to provide permanent supportive housing for the homeless. The group, which launched nearly 30 years ago with a grant from the county’s Department of Mental Health, manages 47 buildings and provides in-house services in 18 of those buildings.

Gallo said that her group believes in a “housing first” approach to homelessness and that the model for permanent housing relies on subsidies that enable tenants to pay a fraction of their income in rent, no matter how small that income, without sacrificing the community aspect of living in Los Angeles.

“There really was no housing provider out there that was providing housing that is affordable,” she said. “Our initial founders wanted to create a community where people would have friends.

Earlier this year, L.A. County voters approved Measure H — a tax expected to raise $355 million for homeless services over the next 10 years. The county has developed 21 strategies for addressing homelessness and plans to use Measure H funding to increase housing and services for the county’s homeless. Separately, city voters in 2016 passed Proposition HHH — a bond measure that will directly fund new housing units for low-income and housing insecure Angelenos.

“The 1.2 billion (dollars) from Proposition HHH is for the construction of permanent supportive housing,” Ramirez said. “Where Measure H comes in, it really complements supportive housing because it’s millions of dollars to provide the services. Half the challenge is getting a home for a homeless person — then the hard work begins in keeping them there.”

Ramirez said that the county is hoping to bring in more partners like A Community of Friends to help map out the landscape for new programs and housing units to be funded under Measure H.

“We’re trying to be very inclusive in this process because the county can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’re trying to be inclusive, collaborative and transparent.”

Not all services are being provided at the regional level. Vega helps run Bruin Shelter, which launched last year and currently provides beds for six housing insecure UCLA students. It is the first student-run shelter for peers in the country.

Vega’s personal experience with friends who struggled with homelessness inspired him to take on the role at Bruin Shelter, which helps operate the shelter of Students4Students. Students have access to UCLA medical and social welfare students who provide case management services.

“Our space is kind of small — we’re next to a church,” he said. “We’re currently under construction, hoping to expand, so that we can accommodate more students.”

Suzette Shaw is a resident of Skid Row and knows firsthand the struggles that homeless people can face living on the streets.

“We need to make sure that now that we have the dollars, we are intentionally allocating them and very proactive in allocating those funds to organizations and individuals who make sure that the dollars are addressing the needs of the people,” she said.

Shaw used to run a business and commuted long distances to work to try to make ends meet before moving to Skid Row. She’s now living in a housing unit under her Section Eight voucher, which she had for nine months before receiving a unit. Shaw is very open about her story because people need to have more exposure to homeless in order to address the crisis.

“People tend to stereotype and sensationalize what poverty looks like,” Shaw said. “We have to get real about who we are. We talk about NIMBY-ism, ‘not-in-my-backyard.’ People are either going to live on the sidewalk next to you or else you’re going to make a space for them in the building next to you.”

The issue is one of basic human rights for Shaw.

“I may be poor and I may live on the brink, but I do deserve housing and housing should be a human right,” she said.

The talk was part of an ongoing Housing, Equity and Community series put on by the UCLA Lewis Center, which co-sponsored the event with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. The Lewis Center plans to hold more events in the winter and spring quarters on housing issues.

Homelessness in Los Angeles

Tens of thousands of Angelenos, including families with children, are without homes every night. Many more are on the brink of homelessness. In response to this crisis, both the County and City of Los Angeles recently passed funding measures intended to provide new and needed services and resources.

We will explore the issue of homelessness, and the response of local institutions, from three different perspectives: a Skid Row resident and activist, a developer of permanent supportive housing, and UCLA’s own BruinShelter. These speakers will share their perspectives and answer questions from the audience.

Confirmed speakers:
Dora Leong Gallo, A Community of Friends

Suzette Shaw, Activist and Skidrow Resident

Jordan Vega, Director of Resources, Bruin Shelter

Jerry Ramirez, Homelessness Initiative, Chief Executive Office – County of Los Angeles

Moderated by Professor Mike Lens

Lunch Provided. RSVP at homelessnessla.eventbrite.com

Can L.A. Fix its Broken Planning System? UCLA Luskin urban planners discuss the challenges — and possible solutions — to L.A.’s development woes

By Les Dunseith

“In Los Angeles, we do have a rather broken planning system,” Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning, said during an interview after the defeat of a controversial ballot initiative, Measure S, that had sought to clamp down on Los Angeles development.

Lens and other UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in housing density, land use and the related issues of home affordability and transportation say Measure S reflected long-simmering dissatisfaction with how vital decisions about growth, density and housing affordability are made. And they hope increased public awareness will lead to positive change in the state’s planning process.

“L.A. has a very low-density zoning law,” explained Michael Manville MA ’03 PhD ’09, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. “Its general plan is set up for the city as it was 40 years ago. The zoning never caught up with the fact that L.A. became much more urban.

“Now, as a result, in many parts of the city, to build any kind of housing that we actually need — multifamily housing — it’s illegal.”

That means that a zoning exception must be granted for large housing projects, which leads to often-protracted negotiations between developers and members of the L.A. City Council.

“There is a feeling — that is often true — that developers can get something built if they give enough money to the right council member in the right circumstance,” Lens said. “Then the developers build something big where the community never expected something big to go.”

The current process often frustrates citizens, but the benefits to select policymakers and large real estate developers get in the way of reform efforts, Manville noted.

“Developers who can afford to play the game like it,” Manville said, noting that although they must wait as long as a year to start building on land that is sitting unused during negotiations, the developers end up with the “right to build extra units in a very hot property market. And that probably means more profit.”

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05 recently analyzed California’s ongoing housing crisis in a policy brief, or white paper, that provides a detailed look at why people are deeply troubled by the current process as outlined in California’s General Plan and various community plans that govern housing density decisions.

“One of the main things I learned in writing the white paper is that nobody likes new development near them,” Monkkonen said.

The result is a Catch-22 that squeezes the general public from both directions, leaving the average L.A. resident with a choice between paying high rent or seeking a risky loan to buy a home they really can’t afford.

‘A City Can Only Sprawl So Far’

A look at the population and housing numbers for Los Angeles clearly illustrates the problem, said UCLA Luskin’s Joan Ling MA UP ‘82, a longtime lecturer in urban planning who has deep experience in real estate analysis and affordable housing. She cited a study by Greg Morrow PhD ’13. “In 1960, there were 2 million people living in the City of Los Angeles, and the zoning capacity was set for 10 million people. In 2010, the city’s population was 4 million people, but the zoning capacity had been reduced to 4.3 million. So, in fact, we had enough zoning capacity for only 200,000 to 300,000 in additional growth.”

It’s a bad situation that is projected to get even worse. By 2040, Los Angeles is projected to grow by another 800,000 people.

“So where are these people going to go?” Ling asked. “That’s the real problem.”

California has enticing natural features. But most areas are unsuitable for human occupation, or the land is already used by industry or agriculture.

“A city can only sprawl so far,” Ling explained, noting that traffic in Southern California has become a daily nightmare for many people.

The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is an ever-present issue in California, Monkkonen said. When a new, higher-density project is proposed almost anywhere, neighborhoods rise up to block it. “So this is what happens when we have built horizontally to the fringes of the metropolitan area as much as commute times will allow — we get traffic jams and a lack of affordable housing,” he explained.

California’s flawed system of zoning effectively blocks housing affordability, according to several faculty members in the Department of Urban Planning. For example, Monkkonen noted that condos are much cheaper to build and thus much more affordable than single-family homes, but condos “are illegal in 75 percent of L.A. Effectively, using the power of the state, we have prevented the majority of the people in the U.S. and the majority of the people in L.A. from ever buying a home.”

The state’s love of automobiles and its idyllic notion of cul-de-sac suburbs — the California Dream itself — is part of the problem.

“People come here with a certain picture of Los Angeles,” Lens noted. “A place with yards. A place where you have the freedom to get in your car and go where you need to go.”

‘A Horrible Place to Walk or Bike’

It’s a belief system that also contributes to a popular “American idea that when you talk about density, you talk about high-rise buildings,” Manville said. “Not too many people understand that Paris is twice as dense as New York City, and Paris has no high-rise buildings. It’s just that it’s consistently four to six stories.”

Manville thinks that Los Angeles could get a lot denser, and yet remain livable, just by turning many single-story neighborhoods into two-story neighborhoods, especially along major boulevards.

“L.A. has pulled off this amazing trick, where you have a city in which large portions are relatively flat, where the weather is always nice, and it’s a horrible place to walk or bike,” Manville said.

Certainly, a denser neighborhood is going to end up with more congestion, Manville acknowledged. “But the thing that people forget is that most of their driving probably isn’t in their neighborhood. If [new housing] is not built in their neighborhood, then it’s going to be built somewhere. And they’re probably still going to encounter those cars somewhere else.”

If the density is done well, then people experience more opportunities not to be in their cars. “If the density isn’t done well, then you can get the worst of all worlds,” he said.

A denser neighborhood, if it’s designed carefully, becomes a more pleasant place to walk and live. Manville points to London, which embraced the idea that to manage its congestion, it needed to charge people to drive.

“If you actually do something that makes congestion better — which is what charging does and nothing else does — then you can knock down a lot of the concerns about more density. And a lot more good things can flow from that,” Manville said.

The congestion toll in London has added housing and allowed transportation authorities to “take back a lot of the space that had previously been allocated to cars,” Manville said. “There are just so many more sidewalks and bicycle lanes and lanes dedicated to buses that make the transit go much faster.”

Monkkonen points to Vancouver, Canada, as another potential model for Los Angeles. “It’s a place where single-family home neighborhoods have had the density increased without changing how it looks. In Vancouver, they have a basement unit, a ground-level unit and a second-floor unit. They look like single-family homes, but there are actually three households there.”

The only way to handle a constantly growing population, Monkkonen argued, is to set aside our neighborhood-based ideals and look at the region as a whole.

Like her colleagues, Ling sees the need to increase housing density in Los Angeles, but it is “equally important to require that this density be coupled with inclusionary zoning.
A proportion of this extra density must be built as affordable housing.”

In downtown Los Angeles, a boom in construction has brought gleaming new high-rises along with a handful of medium-density projects. Most people think downtown is better now, Ling said, but it’s not a model that works throughout the city.

A Tipping Point for California?

Where, then, should the new housing be built?

“That’s the question,” Ling said. “Where are we going to put it? If this planning was rational, we would put them where the density is most-suited, where people most want to live. But, in reality, issues like this are very much decided on the local level, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, district-by-district.”

In Monkkonen’s view, the best chance to solve California’s housing crisis lies at the state level. In his white paper, he says the state should take action by enforcing and enhancing existing laws, developing ways to make planning decisions at a metropolitan, not neighborhood, scale.

“As long as cities decide within their boundaries where to put the housing, it will work,” Monkkonen said of the idea. “The state would just say, ‘You must have housing,’ and enforce the rules if cities do not comply.”

The state has had rules on the books for 40 years to promote the creation of new housing, but they are rarely enforced. Perhaps California has reached a tipping point that would make state action more feasible?

“Oregon gets a lot of attention in planning scholarship,” Manville said. “They do have a very strong statewide land use program, where the state plays a very active role.”

California could do it too, even in places where resistance would be strong.

These ideas — stronger statewide leadership, looser zoning laws, smarter growth, improved transit, denser housing — are viewed by the UCLA Luskin faculty members as essential changes. Despite the disenchantment that spawned Measure S and similar outcries over growth, they remain generally upbeat about the region’s prospects for a more livable future.

In 20 years, Ling said, “I hope we would live comfortably and closely together, in a city were we don’t need to drive anymore because there will be autonomous cars that move us from our house to the transit station. I’d like L.A. to look like many of the arrondissements in central Paris, filled with six-story buildings in a walkable neighborhood.

“That’s what I would like to see. And we have to believe that it’s possible,” she said, pausing a moment to consider what may happen if the advice of planners like her continues to go unheard. “Otherwise, it could be very bad.”

‘It’s About Changing the Paradigm’ On ‘A Day Without a Woman,’ the Department of Urban Planning creates space for reflection and dialogue about women’s history, gender and equality

By Stan Paul

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

A century ago, the great-grandmother of UCLA Luskin’s Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris faced raising and educating her children alone. She and her family had been expelled from Russia following the 1917 revolution, losing their property, and Loukaitou-Sideris told those gathered at an open forum to mark “A Day Without a Woman” that her great-grandfather died on the journey to Greece.

Her great-grandmother persevered, raising one of the first women in the labor force in Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris’ grandmother, who soon was “climbing the ladder” on her way to becoming a manager in the Greek railway system.

Loukaitou-Sideris credits her family, especially her father, with supporting her decision as a young woman to find her own path in the United States, where her academic and professional aspirations led to her becoming a professor of urban planning at UCLA and also the university’s associate provost for academic planning.

“I was a lucky one,” said Loukaitou-Sideris at the March 9, 2017, dialogue for students, faculty and staff at the Luskin School in observance of International Women’s Day.

Other participants shared their own perspectives, recognizing women who had influenced their lives. Attendees also talked about ongoing equality issues and how to break down gender barriers that continue to exist. With gratitude, they recognized the strength, struggle, and perseverance of female role models in advancing women’s rights in society and the workplace.

“I’m here to show solidarity with my fellow women and celebrate the role we play in society,” said Leilah Moeinsadeh, a first-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) student.

Michael Lens

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, added, “I think of … things that women have to deal with that I don’t have to deal with, things my position and status as a man have exempted me from. So, it’s important to reflect on how to treat people, particularly women, with the respect they deserve.”

Lens said much of his life and career have been shaped disproportionately by women in positive ways, explaining that he grew up with his mother in a single-parent household. Mentors, advisers and supervisors in and out of academia — many of them women – “have shaped my career in ways I never expected,” he said.

Joan Ling, lecturer in urban planning, pointed out that challenges remain. “Today reminds me of all the work ahead of us,” she said. “It’s not enough, because it’s not about women being equal to men. It’s about changing the paradigm about how we look at power and influence.”

Ling, a graduate of the urban planning master’s program, added, “And, [it’s about] using different metrics to measure our ability to have control over our lives and live a just life.”

Day Without a Woman from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

Ling’s grandmother — raised in China during a time when young girls’ feet were bound to stunt growth — was “crippled because her feet were bound into 4-inch stumps when she was a child.” Ling’s mother didn’t go to school because at that time it was not considered important for a girl to be educated. “I want those things to change,” Ling said. “But beyond that — equality and education and opportunities — it’s really redefining how we run the world.”

The discussion also covered political issues such as gender-neutral restroom legislation across the nation and the day-to-day challenges of being a mother and keeping up with the requirements of a Ph.D. program. Other topics included the logic of planning buildings to include lactation rooms in the workplace, as well as discussion of housing, jobs, women of color, transgender women and the role of students in dismantling barriers.

“An international day of recognition is a great way to ignite conversation, but something as important as gender equality should not be designated to a discussion once a year, it must be ongoing,” said Alexis Oberlander, urban planning graduate adviser, who helped organize the event and served as moderator. “I was excited by the ideas the students presented, and I hope those ideas invigorate more dialogue and action.”

Home Sweet Home During a Lewis Center Book Talk, visiting lecturer Brian McCabe explores the efficiency of U.S. government support for homeownership

By Zev Hurwitz

Brian J. McCabe is a sociologist whose research focuses on the importance, impact and problems associated with homeownership in the U.S. — not exactly common issues for a sociologist.

“Sociologists have largely ceded the study of housing to economists,” McCabe said. “We should be thinking about housing as not only an economic problem but as a social problem, too.”

McCabe, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgetown University, delivered a seminar at the Luskin School of Public Affairs on Feb. 22, 2017, based on his recent book, “No Place Like Home: Wealth, Community & the Politics of Homeownership.” The book explores the American passion for home ownership and its effect on local communities.

At the Book Talk hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center, McCabe walked attendees through the central themes of his book, focusing particularly on methods for evaluating the impact of homeownership on communities.

Michael Lens, assistant professor in UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Department of Urban Planning, noted that McCabe’s diverse background yielded a unique approach to his work.

“[McCabe’s] research offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of cities combining his training in sociology, geography and public policy, primarily on housing issues,” Lens said.

Homeownership did not become the status quo for most Americans until the middle of the 20th century as marketing campaigns and the news media helped establish the notion that owning a home is an American ideal, McCabe said.

“We generally agree that buying a home is a good thing,” he said. “Ninety percent of Americans believe they prefer to live in a home rather than rent one. Most people who own a home are happy with their housing decision, and most renters expect that one day they’re going to be homeowners.”

In addition to being a vehicle for building wealth, home ownership can also be a tool for building citizenship and community. Government programs that create incentives for Americans to purchase a home strive to strengthen citizenry, but McCabe’s book challenges whether owning a home is actually responsible for community and civic engagement.

“This is what I want to challenge in my talk: Does the evidence actually confirm that homeowners are more engaged citizens?” McCabe said. “And, if so, what kinds of civic activities are homeowners engaged in?”

McCabe’s book explores whether the true effects of homeownership have justified government programs designed to promote it, and whether funding for those programs might be better allocated elsewhere.

McCabe cited several pieces of legislation in the 20th century that made it easier for Americans to buy homes, including the National Housing Act of 1934, which established a nationalized mortgage market, and the GI Bill, which made it easier for veterans to pursue homeownership through VA-brokered loans.

“Building a nation where almost 70 percent of Americans own their own home was not natural, nor was it inevitable,” he said. “It’s built on the back of federal interventions and mortgage markets that make the cost of borrowing cheaper. The federal government is deeply involved with all of this.”

In the course of McCabe’s research, he found that homeownership does correspond to higher rates of civic involvement. Homeowners are more likely to vote or sign a petition, McCabe learned.

However, when accounting for “residential stability”— which McCabe defines as living in the same place for five or more years — the data suggest that homeownership has less of an effect on the likeliness to engage in civic ways than does the length of residence.

“The nuance that I want to add to the story that ‘homeowners are better citizens’ is that there are some places where it is not home ownership that causes people to be more engaged, but actually residential stability,” he said.

Putting the roots of civic engagement in the context of modern government programs that make it easier to buy homes, namely the mortgage interest rate deduction, McCabe said that such programs are inefficient and that the payoffs are not substantial.

“Even if the deduction was a way to increase home ownership, the public benefits of promoting homeownership are insufficient to justify those costs,” he said.

McCabe laid out several policy alternatives to current deductions that might be healthier for the country, including capping the size of loans eligible for deduction, eliminating the deduction for a one-time first-home credit or prioritizing programs that promote residential stability, such as home-choice vouchers.

In Pursuit of Misdemeanor Justice UCLA Luskin researchers selected for nationwide Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice will focus on Los Angeles

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs researchers have been selected to join the Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice based at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, and colleague Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning at the Luskin School, will lead research efforts focused on policing patterns related to misdemeanors in the city of Los Angeles. Six sites were selected by the Research Network based on proposals submitted from 39 institutions across the United States.

The Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Feb. 16, 2017, announced the six sites — Los Angeles; Toledo, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; Seattle, Wash.; Prince George’s County, Md.; and St. Louis, Mo. — selected to join New York City as part of the network. The core sites will use data analytics to inform policy discussions and reforms regarding trends in the enforcement of lower-level offenses. Through a generous $3.25-million, three-year grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the Research Network builds upon the success of the Misdemeanor Justice Project in New York City.

“We are excited to work with the core sites and to help inform their policy decisions on critical issues regarding the role of the criminal justice system in responding to low-level misconduct,” said John Jay College President Jeremy Travis.

The Research Network is a national alliance of seven jurisdictions that will examine trends in the enforcement and disposition of lower-level offenses at a local level and, for the first time, at a cross-jurisdictional level. The Research Network, working with research institutions, data partners and stakeholders, aims to build data infrastructure at a local level. The Network also seeks to inform smarter criminal justice policies that enhance public safety, increase public trust in the police and implement fiscally responsible policies, particularly surrounding behaviors that involve officer discretion.

Stoll and Lens will partner with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to study data from stops and arrests over time and across different precincts. The data will be used to help them identify possible “misdemeanor hot spots” where diversion programs could be more effective.

“The larger good in studying policing related to low-level offenses will be to figure out how the LAPD can police smarter and more effectively,” Stoll said. He added that there is evidence that individuals involved in multiple misdemeanor offenses have a high probability to go on to commit a felony offense, and that intervention and diversion at the misdemeanor level can be effective in reducing felony offenses.

In looking at misdemeanors and police intervention over time, Stoll and Lens hope to build a network in Los Angeles supportive of this effort. This includes partnering with the city attorney, nonprofit organizations and diversion programs.

The selection criteria for the six sites included a commitment toward evidence-based reform in their local jurisdiction and the availability of high quality administrative data on arrests for lower level offenses, summonses, pedestrian stops and case outcome data that includes pretrial detention. The Research Network received 39 proposals. The research partners are UCLA, University of Toledo, North Carolina Central University, Seattle University, University of Maryland and University of Missouri—St. Louis.

“To see the work of the Misdemeanor Justice Project expand from New York City to six other jurisdictions is very exciting,” said professor Preeti Chauhan, the principal investigator of Research Network. “We are looking forward to replicating the New York model to these sites and believe the results will guide smarter criminal justice reform.”

Enforcement of lower-level offenses has a profound impact on the criminal justice system. It can overwhelm the courts and delay case processing, often resulting in large numbers of individuals held on pretrial detention. High-volume activity serves as the basis of public opinion about police and the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. The Research Network works with criminal justice stakeholders to obtain accurate data, provide objective analyses and disseminate findings to key stakeholders in the community, renowned scholars and policymakers to spur a national dialogue.

 

 

A Case of Arrested Development UCLA faculty members join the discussion on an upcoming city ballot measure that could block big development projects in Los Angeles for two years

By Zev Hurwitz

The merits of an upcoming ballot initiative, Measure S, that would mean big changes for big development projects in the city brought together a panel of UCLA faculty members.

If passed by voters in March 2017, Measure S would impose a temporary moratorium on development projects that require changes to zoning, land use and building height laws in Los Angeles. In addition, the measure would restrict other changes and impose mandatory review procedures to the Los Angeles General Plan, while preventing project applicants from conducting their own Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).

“If you’re a developer and you want to do some affordable housing … it would be informally discouraged in wealthier areas,” said Joan Ling, a longtime lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Urban Planning. “There’s a lot of talk about reforming land use laws in L.A., but there’s very little desire for actual results because the councilmembers want control of what gets built and that is tied to election campaign fundraising.”

In addition to Ling, the panel, which was produced by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studiesincluded urban planning faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, also joined the conversation, which was moderated by Rosslyn “Beth” Hummer, the chair of the Land Use Planning and Environmental Subcommittee of the Real Property Section of the L.A. County Bar Association.

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, introduced the panel and gave background on the ballot measure. Most panelists oppose Measure S, he noted, but the goal of the forum was to forecast both electoral scenarios.

“Measure S is something that urban planners should be informed about,” he said to an audience comprised mostly of master’s students in UCLA Luskin’s program. “Our goal here is not to push you in any one direction. We’re hoping to provide you with the best possible projections for what might happen if Measure S is actually passed.”

Ling talked about the housing regulatory infrastructure in the city, the leadership of which includes a planning director designated by the mayor and the 15-member City Council. She described the zoning and development realities for what she referred to as Los Angeles’ three cities, “the rich areas, the very low-income areas and the transitional areas.”

Monkkonen discussed a recent White Paper he authored in which concerns of residential leaders about construction in California were voiced. He identified several major reasons why neighborhoods and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders opposed big development projects.

“Some people have concerns about the built environment of their neighborhoods,” Monkkonen said. “They’re concerned about strains on services, their roads, their schools. They have anger at developers for being rich and seeming to get away with things.”

Zasloff noted that the movement to put Measure S and similar initiatives on the ballot is not uncommon for residents who want to maintain the status quo for housing in their neighborhoods.

“When you consider that the vast majority of wealth for many Americans is tied up in their house … many people are scared for what this is going to do to their property values,” he said. “It’s a real concern for people when they set financial expectations for themselves and aren’t sure where to go with them.”

Opponents of big development projects are often concerned about increases in traffic resulting from new population density. Manville said he thinks Measure S would provide little benefit regarding congestion, however.

“It ends up being a very small and uncertain reduction in traffic, played against a much more certain cost in housing prices,” Manville said.

The measure is opposed by the Los Angeles chapters of both the Democratic and Republican parties —giving it a rare bipartisan opposition.

Asked to name one positive that is coming out of the Measure S movement, Zasloff replied that the threat of ballot items similar to Measure S keeps pressure on local elected officials to be more involved with constituency planning.

“If there were a way to scare the bejesus out of City Council on a regular basis, that would probably be helpful,” he said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and drew more than 50 students, faculty and community members. Additional resources, including a video, case law and information about other Measure S events, can be found here.

Lending Obama Administration a Hand on Housing Study by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning scholars is cited in new White House Housing Development Toolkit

By Stan Paul

A recent study by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty researchers is part of a new toolkit on housing development announced and published this week by the Obama administration.

The Housing Development Toolkit, now available online, outlines barriers to housing development but also includes a list of actions that state and local governments can use to “promote healthy, responsive, high-opportunity housing markets, despite the common and sometimes challenging political barriers to reform and improvement.”

The 2015 Luskin study, “Do Strict Land Use Regulations Make Metropolitan Areas More Segregated by Income?” — previously published in the Journal of the American Planning Association — is referenced in the toolkit addressing local barriers to housing development that affect affordability for working families. Authors Michael Lens, assistant professor of Urban Planning, and Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of Urban Planning, urge that density restrictions be removed because they drive urban segregation.

“Inclusion in this publication demonstrates both the timeliness and relevance of the work our Luskin researchers do,” said Lois Takahashi, interim dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In their study, Lens and Monkkonen find that inherent local planning problems can be alleviated somewhat by regional and state efforts.

“State governments are well-positioned to push cities to build more housing — especially cities that try to exclude types of housing affordable to lower-income households,” Monkkonen said.

In addition, Lens and Monkkonen point out that “efforts to force wealthier parts of the city to build housing for low-income households, i.e., inclusionary housing, have a greater potential to reduce segregation than bringing higher-income households into lower-income parts of the city.”

“I think this is a remarkably informed document, and it is great to see that the Obama administration is thinking this way and is motivated to put this information out there,” Lens said. “It is complementary to HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rules and work, and recent case law (Inclusive Communities v. Texas Department of Housing and Community Development) might nudge localities toward relaxing regulations and allowing more multifamily development.”

The White House publication cites restrictive zoning and land-use regulations — as well as a cumbersome approval process — as the causes for a slow response to demand for housing across the United States. It also highlights beneficial practices already in use across the country as well as potential starting points for bringing housing planning and development in line with 21st century needs.

Although encouraged by the report, Lens said that the Obama administration also has very little power, if any, over local land-use decision-making. He cautioned that “there are a lot of great ideas in here that for the most part” could be ignored by local governments.

However, “there is a growing movement in California advocating for changes in the way urban growth is accommodated with existing city boundaries,” Monkkonen said. “I hope that the endorsement of the White House in this regard will push these efforts forward.”

The Housing Development Toolkit may be found at:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/images/Housing_Development_Toolkit%20f.2.pdf

Perpetuating Cycles of Exclusion New study by UCLA Luskin professors Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens examines how zoning laws in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas reinforce socioeconomic divides

By Adrian Bijan White

A new study by researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs shines a light on how zoning law changes in the largest U.S. metropolitan areas are increasing inequality and raising concerns about social mobility.

One of the most influential factors in shaping metropolitan areas, according to the study, is the government’s use of land regulations and zoning laws, which determine building densities and land uses. “The playing field,” according to the researchers, “is far from equal.”

It is well known that zoning laws and land regulation contribute to racial and economic segregation through “exclusionary zoning” policies, but the new study by Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05, assistant professors in Urban Planning, examines these processes in depth. Their research revealed four patterns in zoning restrictions.

Zoning policies in metropolitan areas isolate wealth

“We found that more stringent regulatory processes are related to the segregation of the affluent,” Lens said. “What we see is their ability to self segregate and to pass laws and regulations toward that end.” Lens added that policies allow for the concentration of wealth, rather than the concentration of poverty, within cities. The self-segregating ability of the wealthy derives from socioeconomic status and influence, which manifests itself in exclusionary zoning policy. Some classes, as a result, are excluded from certain neighborhoods and congregate in less desirable neighborhoods. Restrictions such as single-family zoning as opposed to higher density apartment complexes, raise housing prices and perpetuate cycles of exclusion.

Zoning laws across the entire metropolitan area are relevant

Within metropolitan areas, individual cities retain high levels of autonomy in terms of their zoning policies. As a result, cities often tailor their restrictions to appeal to higher-income residents. “If we had land use regulation at a regional scale, we could reduce the tendency of smaller, wealthy cities trying to zone for a certain kind of resident,” Monkkonen said. “However, this would require a change which would greatly reduce the city’s individual power.

“If you have a strict enough regulatory regime, you can’t build enough units in city neighborhoods which are experiencing accelerated changes in demographics,” Monkkonen added. “In terms of gentrification, you have an influx of higher income residents, which raises the value of said neighborhood. In terms of building development, if you can build enough units to keep up with rising demand, then lower-income households could stick around, which would result in an integrating process and not an exclusionary one.”

Bureaucratic construction processes and density restrictive policies hinder the development of surrounding cities in metropolitan areas and stagnate the supply of housing, making housing prices highly sensitive to shifting socioeconomic trends.

Localized zoning policies contribute to the segregation of neighborhoods

“Maximum density restrictions (single-family zoning) are the way in which cities restrict multi-family housing. People often assume that places with lower density rules have less poor people, which we can confirm.” Monkkonen asserts that local processes of density restriction contribute to the concentration of wealth. “If we can speed up housing construction processes and adapt zoning regulations to allow for the densification of neighborhoods, we could stabilize housing prices and render neighborhoods more inclusionary.”

Local policies within cities indirectly promote the exclusion of lower-income populations by restricting multi-family housing, according to the researchers. By maintaining lower levels of population density, the forces of supply and demand raise housing prices. Furthermore, different policies play out in different ways in terms of their effects on segregation. Areas that demonstrate very bureaucratic construction processes are highly segregated because of the inability to provide new housing. Segregation is also correlated with stronger local government restrictions, which often restrict population growth. On the other hand, segregation is not strongly associated with open-space requirements, supply restrictions or delayed approvals.

Centralized policies can mitigate segregation across metropolitan areas

There is some variation across states in the extent of local control over land use. “When you see checks on city regulations in metropolitan areas by the state, we witness lower levels of income segregation,” Lens said.

Centralized zoning policies reduce the effects of local government policies, which contribute to the segregation of neighborhoods, according to the study. By reducing the autonomy of individual cities, metropolitan areas as a whole can work towards higher levels of density, inclusionary housing policies and integration. “The government has regulatory tools to promote integration between middle- and lower-class communities; however, wealthy communities retain their ability to self segregate. Our research shows that local government regulations help them do so,” Lens said.

The political and economic influence of wealthy residents renders certain neighborhoods partially immune to the effects of inclusionary zoning regulations; however, authorities can target the integration of lower- and middle-class neighborhoods. “When you see checks on city regulations in metropolitan areas by the state, we witness lower levels of income segregation,” Monkkonen said. By dismantling bureaucratic construction processes and restrictions on density levels, which is often witnessed by state level regulations, cities can work toward stabilizing housing prices and integrating communities.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA). It can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01944363.2015.1111163#abstract