Luskin Summit Brainstorms Solutions for Housing Justice

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

Monkkonen on Allocating Affordable Housing Units

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.”

Monkkonen on the Legacy of a Racist System

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.

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

Monkkonen Illustrates Downsides of Single-Family Zoning

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.

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.”

A Spotlight on Students’ Research to Aid Culver City

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.

Monkkonen on COVID-19 and the L.A. Arts Scene

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.”


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.