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.
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.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Voice of San Diego about some of the issues associated with single-family zoning. In San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is pushing housing reforms that would make it easier for developers to build rent-controlled apartments near transit but would not change the single-family zoning that applies to most of the city. Excluding single-family areas near transit from the program might be politically wise, Monkonnen said, but the collective benefit of allowing more people to live near transit should outweigh the concerns of people who don’t want their neighborhoods to change. “A big problem for California is we have never allowed single-family neighborhoods to change, and so people are overly concerned about what would happen if we did,” he said. Allowing California residents to build four homes on any single-family lot would be a big step toward addressing the state’s housing crisis, he said.
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.”
The Culver City News spotlighted UCLA Luskin student research on housing, infrastructure and traffic in Culver City. Graduate students affiliated with the Lewis Center for Regional Studies published six reports on a variety of issues facing the city, under the supervision of Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. The first paper, “Advancing Community Engagement in Culver City,” highlighted the failure of many projects within the city to truly engage the community with planning and development. Citing five projects as case studies, the student researchers found that time restrictions and lack of funds were common barriers to inclusiveness. The researchers recommended the formation of a community engagement team and outreach plan to widen the participation of citizens in the city’s projects.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impact of gentrification and pandemic on the eclectic arts and music scene in Highland Park. The COVID-19 lockdown has devastated the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood and widened the divide between old-school and upstart artists. “You see a correlation between gentrifiers maintaining their income and lower-income people losing it,” Monkkonen said. SB1410, a pending state bill offering landlords tax breaks for forgiving rent, might help keep tenants of all sorts in place, he said. But real estate speculation and further gentrification remain real possibilities, he said. “There’s a big concern that mom-and-pop landlords will decide they don’t want to deal with tenants who can’t pay, and sell their buildings,” Monkkonen said. “Times of crisis are good times to buy, and a lot of these distressed properties are bought up by private equity.”
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.