Manville on Public Sentiments Surrounding Transportation and COVID

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a CityLab article on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on transportation ballot measures in the upcoming election. With transit ridership at low levels and many Americans out of work or working from home, experts are wondering how voters will respond to the transportation initiatives on the ballot. Manville said that it doesn’t necessarily matter if voters don’t plan to ride buses and trains anytime soon. He pointed to various transit measures that have passed in areas where the vast majority of enfranchised people drive. According to Manville, the promises of traffic relief, economic growth and environmental benefits can be more motivating for voters than the actual mobility services. “I think the bigger question now is whether the way people are experiencing COVID and the economic fallout has changed how they think aspirationally about their transportation system,” Manville said. “We just don’t know what that will look like.”


Few Trying to Skip Out on Rent During Pandemic, Study Finds

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

1 in 5 Tenants in L.A. Has Struggled to Pay Rent During Pandemic, Study Finds Thousands of renters are at risk of eviction with moratorium set to expire; tens of thousands more are in a deep financial hole

By Claudia Bustamante

Twenty-two percent of Los Angeles County tenants paid rent late at least once from April to July, while between May and July, about 7% did not pay any rent at least once, according to a joint UCLA–USC report released today as a statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire.

The report documents the hardships faced by tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it traces those hardships overwhelmingly to lost work and wages as a result of the economic shutdown.

Among households in the county that did not pay rent, either in full or partially, about 98,000 tenants have been threatened with an eviction, while an additional 40,000 report that their landlord has already begun eviction proceedings against them. California’s moratorium on evictions was scheduled to end Sept. 1, but at the last minute, lawmakers extended protections through Jan. 31, 2021. Federal action to protect renters from eviction at the national level through December 2020 has also been enacted.

The report by researchers at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate analyzed data from the U.S. Census, as well as data from an original survey conducted in July 2020 of 1,000 Los Angeles County renter households. The survey, in particular, gave the researchers new insights into the circumstances facing renters. The study was authored by Michael ManvillePaavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens, all with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center.

“I think everyone understood, early on, that renters might be in trouble as a result of COVID-19 and its economic fallout, but conventional sources of data don’t give us a good window into whether renters are paying or not, and into how they are paying if they do pay,” said lead author Manville, an associate professor of urban planning. “We were able, by using data from a special census survey, and especially our own original survey of renters, to get a direct sense of these questions.”

The researchers first analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a weekly survey that asked if renters have paid rent on time and if they think they will be able to pay the next month’s rent on time. This data was augmented by the UCLA Luskin–USC Lusk survey, which asked not only if renters paid on time but if they paid in full and if they were threatened with an eviction or had eviction proceedings initiated against them.

The study found that tenants have been facing unprecedented hardships during the COVID-19 crisis, substantially more so than homeowners. Overall, the study also found that most tenants are still paying their rent during the pandemic but are often doing so by relying on unconventional funding sources. The majority who pay late or not at all have either lost their work, gotten sick with COVID-19 or both.

Among the findings:

  •  About 16% of tenants report paying rent late each month from April through July.
  •  About 10% did not pay rent in full for at least one month between May and July.
  •  About 2% of renters are three full months behind on rent. This translates to almost 40,000 households in a deep financial hole.
  •  Late payment and nonpayment are strongly associated with very low incomes (households earning less than $25,000 annually) and being Black or Hispanic.
  •  Nonpayment is more common among tenants who rent from friends and family.

This crisis is particularly acute in the Los Angeles region and other high-cost cities, where an existing affordable housing crisis and an economic slowdown resulting from mitigation efforts to curb the pandemic intersect to threaten the stability of many households.

“Even before the pandemic, L.A. renters, especially low-income renters, were struggling,” said Lens, associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center. And while most renters who miss rent have entered into some type of repayment plan, they’re not out of the woods yet.

“Nonpayment occurs disproportionately among the lowest-income renter households, so repaying back rent could be a tremendous burden for them,” Lens said.

The study also found that renters were suffering disproportionately from anxiety, depression and food scarcity, and they are relying much more than in the past on credit cards, family and friends, and payday loans to cover their expenses. One-third of households with problems paying rent relied on credit card debt and about 40% used emergency payday loans.

The prevalence of these nonconventional forms of payment, along with the incidence of job loss among tenants, suggests the importance of direct income assistance to renter households.

Tenants collecting unemployment insurance were 39% less likely to miss rent payments. Just 5% of households that hadn’t lost a job or fallen sick reported not paying the rent.

Co-author Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, said that although data show that most renters have been paying their rent, government policies can help strengthen the ability to do so.

“One of the main concerns among landlords at the beginning of the pandemic was that tenants weren’t going to pay their rent if they knew they weren’t going to be evicted,” Green said. “Not only have we not seen any evidence of this, but getting money in renters’ hands through unemployment insurance or rental assistance helps a lot.”

Co-author Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning and public policy, agreed.

Helping renters now will not only stave off looming evictions next month but “also prevent cumulative money problems that are no less serious, such as renters struggling to pay back credit card debt, struggling to manage a repayment plan or emerging from the pandemic with little savings left,” he said.

Across the state, most evictions were halted in April by the California Judicial Council, the state’s court policymaking body. The eviction moratorium was set to expire in June, but it had been postponed to Sept. 1 to allow local and state lawmakers more time to develop further protections, including the bill currently under consideration. Given the unconventional means renters reported using to pay rent, the new study says that policies that provide funds to renters could help mitigate a raft of evictions and homelessness that had been predicted by previous reports by researchers at UCLA and elsewhere.

The study was funded by the Luskin School, the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, and the California Community Foundation.

UCLA Study Cited in Essay on Why Movies Portray Developers as Evil

A 2018 article about anti-development attitudes, authored by UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville, is mentioned by the Libertarian magazine Reason in an essay that focuses on the propensity of Hollywood to portray real estate developers as bad guys. The essay traces the movie trope of an evil developer as far back as Frank Capra and his Depression-era movies like the 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That movie presents one of the best-known rich-guy villains in movie history: Mr. Potter. Such characters reflect circumstances explored by Manville and Monkkonen when they wrote about how the high cost of land and the complexity of regulations can make real estate development difficult. Reason quotes directly from the UCLA article, saying, “These circumstances could select for developers who are both affluent and out-of-step with conventional ways of behaving: Only deep-pocketed, hard-charging and confrontational people will be willing and able to lobby elected officials and get rules changed in order to build.”


Manville on San Diego Transit Expansion Plans

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the city’s transit plans. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, who spent two years working on a transit expansion plan when the pandemic started, said he is determined to push forward with the $177 billion proposal. Ikhrata will present the plan, which includes 350 miles of new rail track, to the SANDAG board of directors. The plan has faced pushback from some who have said that the pandemic will radically change commuter patterns, threatening to render the plan obsolete by the time it’s under way. However, Manville argued that much of the pandemic’s impact will be temporary. “Right now, most of the economy’s still closed and you’ve got jammed roads,” he explained. “It seems hard to believe that in 20 years there will be no point to having mass transit to San Diego’s job centers.”


Manville on Reaching a Traffic Tipping Point

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Boston Globe about an uptick in traffic as the Boston metropolitan area reopens. Transit officials view the increased congestion as a real-time experiment to determine how much traffic the region’s highways can take before hitting their tipping points. Manville explained that, once a road nears capacity, each additional vehicle gums things up exponentially. “In ‘The Three Stooges,’ the classic trope is they all try and go through a door at once and they get stuck. If they had just walked through individually, not only could all of them have gone through the door but an almost infinite number of people could have gone in behind them,” he said. “You can have an incredibly high flow going through a door, or on a road, as long as a critical mass isn’t trying to do so at once.”

Manville Predicts Return to Pre-Pandemic Traffic as L.A. Reopens

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a KCRW segment on the resurgence of Los Angeles traffic congestion as the car-centric county reopens. “It’s some combination of businesses and recreation areas reopening, combined with quarantine fatigue,” explained Manville to Press Play program host Madeleine Brand. “It’s still well below what we would be experiencing in non-COVID times … but it’s up a bit from the absolute valley it fell to right after the stay-at-home orders were first put into place,” he said. Once the county reopens completely, Manville predicted that traffic will return to what it was like before the pandemic. “Yes, the numbers are creeping up, and I think we just notice that because they had been so low.”  Manville also noted that traffic congestion is the biggest constraint on driving speeds; during the pandemic shutdown, driving speeds increased and the overall number of high-speed collisions remained fairly consistent.


 

Manville, Monkkonen, Lens Against Single-Family Zoning

An American Planning Association blog post broke down the main arguments made by Associate Professors Michael Manville, Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens in their collaborative piece “It’s Time to End Single-Family Zoning.” The article was one of several commentaries by academics and practicing planners included in the January issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, which focused on the debate over single-family zoning. Manville, Monkkonen and Lens traced single-family zoning’s “racist and classist history” through Supreme Court decisions including Buchanan v. Warley (1917) and Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (1926). The impact of these century-old decisions can still be seen in the racial and class makeup of cities in the United States, they said. Arguing that socioeconomic and racial inequality and transportation inefficiency are exacerbated by the single-family classification, they called on planners to lead the charge to change the zoning laws.


Manville on Protecting Tenants from Eviction

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to HuffPost about the consequences renters will face when bans on evictions are eventually lifted. Many Americans may be evicted immediately, resulting in a significant increase in homelessness. Manville predicted that “thousands of newly homeless people and thousands of empty apartments will create a situation that benefits neither renters, landlords nor cities.” He explained that “individual landlords may be confident that if they evict tenants, they’ll be able to fill the vacant unit quickly. If a large number of landlords evict their tenants at the same time, however, there’s going to be too many empty apartments and not enough people with the savings to move into them.” According to Manville, “only the federal government has the power to keep this problem from spiraling.” He argued that all these problems can be avoided “by just letting people stay in their homes.”


Manville on Land-Use Rules Pricing Californians Out of Housing

The Cato Institute released a video featuring Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville discussing California land-use regulations as a key factor in the state’s housing crisis. In the video, part of the institute’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California, Manville argued that, while some limits on development are sensible, there is a certain point at which zoning “becomes an instrument for people who are currently in a neighborhood … to keep other people out.” According to Manville, inefficient land use and rising prices have pushed middle-class people out of neighborhoods, setting off a chain reaction that affects low-income people most. “We need to reform our land use so we can build a lot more housing,” he argued. “It’s true that there isn’t a lot of undeveloped land in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but land can and should be redeveloped.”