Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen spoke to CalMatters about the $500 million in state funding allotted by Gov. Gavin Newsom for affordable student housing. The housing crisis in California has also impacted students, and the funding is meant to help public colleges and universities build affordable housing or renovate existing property through a grant process. Monkkonen noted that the housing aid is a good use of state money. “Unlike grant money or financial aid, housing is a one-time expense that pays dividends because it can be used repeatedly,” he explained. However, experts have agreed that the $500 million package will not be enough to create all of the necessary housing units for public students across California. “A better system would be one in which there’s a long-term plan to grow the stock sufficiently that everyone that wants to live there, can,” Monkkonen said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was featured in a Mel Magazine article about the stigmatization and gentrification of high-density public housing areas. For years, the Cabrini-Green low-income housing project in Chicago was associated with crime and violence. Today, the complex has been renovated into a modern-looking mix of both subsidized and market-rate dwellings, but the stigma around public housing persists. According to Monkkonen, “the stigma and belief that these large complexes are doomed to fail … is a distinctly American point of view.” He pointed out that in places like Hong Kong, France and Scandinavia, government-subsidized housing is more common and culturally accepted. “The common narrative around higher-density living and public housing, and why it became untenable, is a belief that residents didn’t take care of their home,” Monkkonen explained. “But the reason it fell apart was a totally different one. The products of the policies created poor conditions.”
An Orange County Register story on frustrations surrounding California’s rental assistance program, which made $5.2 billion available to help low-income tenants and their landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic, cited research led by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin. Surveys conducted in July 2020 and March 2021 found that, in Los Angeles County, renters’ debt rose sharply as the pandemic dragged on. Almost half of those surveyed in March turned to friends and family to help them pay rent, 58% dipped into their savings and 37% took out an emergency or payday loan, the study found. “That’s a lot of debt that people have accumulated, and they will be left out in the cold if we end up moving forward with a program that just pays your rent,” said Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville, co-author of the study. The research was also highlighted by Commercial Observer and Multi-Housing News.
In a new survey of Los Angeles County renters, 49% of households reported that they were unable to pay all of their rent during the pandemic.
The study, by researchers from UCLA and the University of Southern California, found the median amount renters owe their landlords is $2,800. That suggests that countywide, tenants owe landlords upwards of $3 billion.
The findings are from one of a pair of surveys of 1,000 renters each — one conducted in July 2020, which focused on renters’ ability to pay rent in the short term, and another in March 2021, asking about their ability to pay over the entirety of the pandemic.
The preliminary results show that in both surveys, about 7% of renters missed a full rent payment in at least one of the three months before the study was conducted. But by the time the second survey was conducted, the share of renters paying less than the full amount to a landlord at least once during the crisis had almost doubled to 31%, up from 17% in July 2020.
The study was co-authored by Michael Manville, Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Lens, associate professors at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; and Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.
A slight majority of respondents reported paying their rent on time and in full, and many of those who owe rent said they were behind by less than a month. But other renters are emerging from the COVID-19 emergency in a financial hole they will struggle to climb out of on their own, the authors write in a research brief published today.
Of particular concern is evidence from the surveys that renters’ debt rose sharply as the COVID-19 crisis dragged on. Only about 6% of Los Angeles tenants reported using a credit card to pay their rent prior to the pandemic. That figure rose to 19% of respondents in the early days of the emergency, and to 44% in the latest survey. Also in the 2021 survey, 49% said they turned to friends and family to help them pay rent, 58% dipped into their savings and another 37% reported taking out an emergency or payday loan.
The overall share of renters taking on debt reached 45% in the second survey, up from 32% in the first.
Other findings include:
- Just over 15% of tenants who were behind on their rent payments in 2020 had been threatened with eviction; that figure increased to 25% in the 2021 survey. Although an eviction moratorium is still in effect in Los Angeles County, tenants can still be threatened with evictions or have evictions initiated against them; a court won’t act until the moratorium ends.
- Similarly, 6% reported in 2020 that an eviction had been initiated against them. In 2021, that percentage tripled to 18%.
- In the 2021 survey, about 68% of all respondents said they had received federal aid during the pandemic, and about 15% reported getting local aid.
The problem? The data show that many tenants owe money to people or institutions other than their landlords, and the researchers write that many may be in that position precisely because they were deeply concerned about their housing security.
The report suggests a solution often advocated by economists as the best way to help people facing financial trouble: Just give people money. Distributing cash to tenants who are financially distressed would allow them to pay back whomever is owed the money — a landlord, another creditor or a family member.
“Programs where the government pays a landlord are sometimes justified as ways to prevent fraud or misuse,” Manville said. “And we should certainly be concerned about fraud. But we need to weigh those concerns against the possibility that an overly cautious program will deny needed assistance to some people who are in real financial trouble.”
To allay concerns about fraudulent claims — which in most government redistribution programs are very rare — the authors suggest ways the state could ask for evidence of debt, lost work or income.
The 2021 survey was funded and produced by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies in partnership with the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Committee for Greater LA.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the persistence of racial segregation in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities. New research has found that many regions of the U.S. were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990. Reversing the legacy of segregation is a slow process, said Monkkonen, director of the Latin American Cities Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “It’s a self-perpetuating process, where people are relegated to less attractive parts of the city, and then they’re associated with those parts of the city,” he said. There are also stark disparities in income, home values and life expectancy between residents in segregated communities and those in more integrated areas. Monkkonen said that, while some communities are working to develop proactive policies around fair housing and development, many researchers aren’t convinced that 2020’s reckoning with race will significantly move the needle when it comes to segregation.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was mentioned in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece about the need to enforce housing regulations in San Diego. Every eight years, California cities are required to adopt a state-approved plan that includes rules about regional housing targets, sanctions and zoning restrictions. San Diego is currently out of compliance, but it is unclear how California’s Department of Housing and Community Development will enforce the rules. State law says that cities that lack a compliant housing plan forfeit authority to deny or downsize affordable housing projects. Monkkonen and his students studied San Diego’s housing plan and identified grave shortcomings. For example, they found that 65% of the sites San Diego identified for low-income and multifamily housing are located in the poorest third of the city’s neighborhoods, and the plan fails to open up neighborhoods reserved for single-family homes to multifamily housing.
Property-related incidents are the most frequent type of police-related event at UCLA, followed closely by incidents involving people whose presence or behavior is deemed disruptive or out of place, without any indication of violence, according to a new report from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The study examines police activity at UCLA based on data compiled in compliance with the Clery Act, which requires public disclosure by the Police Department at UCLA regarding the nature, date, time and location of incidents, as well as their disposition status or outcome. The researchers use maps and charts to visualize Clery Act data relating to events involving police, plus some fire department responses, in 2014 and 2019, with supplemental information focusing on arrests by the UCPD in 2018, the most-recent information available. Less than 10% of events involve force or threat of violence, they found, and data maps reveal that a substantial amount of UCPD activity and arrests occur off-campus, mostly in the greater Westwood area but also farther afield. Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of public policy and urban planning at UCLA Luskin, helped oversee the study, working with Noah D. Zatz and Jennifer M. Chacón, professors of law at the UCLA School of Law, and Alejandra A Martinez, an undergraduate research assistant at the Lewis Center who studies economics and was the lead author. Their report also found that more than 80% of reported police activity during the study periods did not result in follow-ups for any asserted or possible crime.
Experts, scholars and activists convened to discuss successful housing strategies — and their potential application in the L.A. region — at the Luskin Summit webinar “Homes for All: Building Coalitions for Equitable Planning in Los Angeles County.” Culver City Vice Mayor Daniel Lee delivered the keynote address at the April 9 event, co-sponsored by UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and Ziman Center for Real Estate. Lee suggested that social housing is the key to addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, moderated a panel on the successes and challenges of housing initiatives in other areas. Berkeley City Council member Terry Taplin shared his personal experiences with homelessness and discussed efforts to end exclusionary zoning practices. Laura Loe, founder of Share the Cities, spoke about her work building housing coalitions in Seattle and the importance of building trust within communities. Alison McIntosh of the Oregon nonprofit Neighborhood Partnerships explained that, “while these problems are complex and thorny, they are solvable.” A second panel, moderated by Tommy Newman of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, focused on how Los Angeles might apply these strategies. Andy Cohen of the architecture and design firm Gensler pointed to COVID-19 as an “opportunity to reimagine the future of cities and prioritize the human experience,” while Joss Tillard-Gates of Enterprise Community Partners spoke about preserving supportive housing for homeless populations. Mahdi Manji of the Inner City Law Center discussed serving the lowest-income clients, and Leonora Camner of Abundant Housing LA stressed the importance of “moving at the speed of trust.” — Zoe Day
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of public policy and urban planning, was featured in a CalMatters article about the lack of affordable housing construction in wealthy cities like Newport Beach and Beverly Hills. In the statewide planning process, affluent communities often lobby for fewer affordable housing units than smaller, less wealthy cities located inland. Monkkonen co-authored a paper arguing for a wholesale reorganization of the process, removing the focus on vacant and underutilized land in favor of rezoning in places where people can easily get to jobs and transit. “The cynical interpretation is that they frame local input as a ‘technical process’ that happens to end up with a result that satisfies the preferences of rich NIMBY cities as a way to distract from criticism,” Monkkonen wrote. “Whatever term you use, the result goes against the goals of state housing law, all the lofty rhetoric of SCAG itself about sustainability, and basic social equity.”
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a Time article on ways to end racial segregation in neighborhoods. Even though the formal practice of redlining has ended, the national homeownership rate for Black Americans is the same as it was in 1968. National zoning reform is needed to bring affordable housing into mostly white neighborhoods, the article argued. Noting opposition at the local level, it called on the federal government to drive the change by tying federal grants for cities and suburbs to zoning for multi-family housing. “There are very few single-family neighborhoods that have suddenly allowed apartment buildings. We don’t really have a model for that kind of zoning change,” Monkkonen said. “People sometimes get upset when we talk about that because they don’t want to feel like they are part of a racist system, but they definitely are part of the legacy of a racist system,” he said.