Ong on L.A.’s ‘Web of Urban Inequality’

A Los Angeles Times story on landlords who skirt anti-eviction rules enacted in response to the COVID-19 outbreak cited research from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin. A Times analysis of data from the Los Angeles Police Department revealed more than 290 instances of potential illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs across the city over 10 weeks beginning in March. The largest share of those police calls was in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in South L.A. CNK research shows that members of these communities, who faced disproportionately high rent burdens even before the pandemic, often work in food service and other sectors with significant wage reductions and job losses due to COVID-19. “This is a web of urban inequality,” CNK Director Paul Ong said. “We could talk about housing, we could talk about jobs, we could talk about health. But the truth of the matter is all these things are interlocked.”


UCLA Report Highlights Inequality in Utility Debt Burden

Scholars from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) collaborated on the new report “Keeping the Lights and Heat On: COVID-19 Utility Debt,” which analyzed the burden of household utility debt for many families, especially in low-income neighborhoods. The report, co-authored by CNK Director Paul Ong and LCI Associate Director Greg Pierce, used data from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), an investor-owned utility that provides electricity and gas service to about 40% of California residents, in order to quantify the prevalence and degree of residential past-due accounts and debt. The authors explained that utility debt levels serve as a useful proxy to track households that are facing difficulties paying their rent or mortgage, particularly during economic crises. While roughly 6% of the Northern and Central California households served by PG&E are facing financial difficulties paying for most essential services, utility debt burden is highest among Black, Latino and economically vulnerable neighborhoods, the study found. PG&E recently announced that it will extend a moratorium on utility service disconnections through September 30, although many other emergency customer protections put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have expired. The authors of the report recommend allocating funding to debt-forgiveness programs for low-income households and severely impacted neighborhoods. They plan to replicate the study in non-PG&E service areas  to better understand the impact of energy and water bill debt across regions. — Zoe Day

Public Health Benefits of Predictive Analytics

A Healthcare Innovation article on the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to inform public health efforts put a spotlight on the work of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. The center created a tool that maps Los Angeles County neighborhoods to assess residents’ vulnerability to COVID-19 infection. The predictive model used four indicators: preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges that create vulnerabilities. “The UCLA case study is emblematic of precisely the kinds of use cases that will be emerging in the coming years, as healthcare leaders start to plumb the vast potential of AI and other forms of predictive analytics to serve the purposes of public health here in the U.S.,” the article said.

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Ong and Shoup Recognized for Exemplary Service to UCLA Awards highlight Paul Ong’s pandemic-related research and Donald Shoup’s international reputation in planning and parking policy

By Stan Paul

Paul Ong and Donald Shoup, research professors at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, have been honored for their decades of outstanding research and teaching and for their exemplary service to UCLA since retirement.

Ong is the recipient of the 2020-21 Carole E. Goldberg Emeriti Service Award, and Shoup is the winner of this year’s Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professorship Award.

“Congratulations to Paul Ong and Don Shoup who are both deserving of this honor,” said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura. “These two leaders and thinkers contribute mightily to making communities and neighborhoods healthier, more functional and more equitable. They fully represent the spirit of the School, and we take tremendous pride in their achievements.”

About Ong’s award

Ong retired in 2017 but has continued his research while serving as director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. The award, established in 2015, recognizes emeriti for exemplary service to the university and their department and includes a prize of $1,000. Ong was cited for his more than three decades of interdisciplinary social science teaching, policy-focused applied research and engagement with the community, as well as his interactions with policymakers to enable significant change.

The nomination for the award was supported by numerous recommendations from UCLA colleagues, including Professor Chris Tilly, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, who noted Ong’s continuing dedication to post-retirement service.

“What makes his service truly extraordinary, and extraordinarily timely, is the Herculean effort he has undertaken over the last two years to generate an astounding volume of actionable research addressing the two crises that have convulsed this country in 2020 and 2021: the COVID-19 crisis and the longstanding crisis of racial injustice that flared into mass activism in 2020,” Tilly wrote in his letter of recommendation.

Tilly said that the resulting stream of policy-focused applied research provided a “tremendous service to Los Angeles and other California communities, and by extension to other communities across the nation wrestling with these issues.”

He noted that Ong’s work and collaborations have helped position the university as a major contributor to understanding while “facing the greatest challenges of this very challenging time.”

Announcing the award was the chair of the awards committee, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel Michael S. Levine. He said of Ong: “He is an extraordinary builder of intellectual relationships, transforming empirical research into critical policy discussions in local, state and national venues.”

“In retirement, this advocacy continued and Professor Ong’s commitment to research-as-service came to a fulcrum during the span of the pandemic with actionable policy research addressing the twin crises of the coronavirus and racial injustice,” Levine said.

He noted that city officials in Los Angeles and medical professionals at UCLA Health drew on Ong’s research when creating COVID-19 vaccine equity guidelines.

Tilly called attention to 28 policy-relevant reports spotlighting the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on various racial and ethnic groups published by Ong since the pandemic began in 2020, mostly issued under the auspices of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge in collaboration with other UCLA units.

Ong’s research collaborators have included the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the Asian American Studies Center, the School of Education and Information Studies, the Ziman Center for Real Estate, the BRITE Center and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, among others.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Ong has been an engaged scholar par excellence, and this latest chapter has taken that engagement to a new level,” Tilly said.

Ong was one of two awardees for 2020-21. Also honored was Josephine B. Isabel-Jones, professor emerita of pediatrics. They join UCLA’s list of outstanding past awardees.

About Shoup’s award

Shoup, who retired in 2015, was chosen among a select group of UCLA scholars that include Distinguished Researcher Professor Emeritus Benjamin Bonavida of the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics and Professor Emeritus Warwick Peacock of the department of Neurosurgery. Each will receive a $5,000 prize from a gift endowment established by the late Edward A. Dickson, a regent of the University of California.

Levine noted that since retirement Shoup has received numerous awards and accolades, including being named a National Planning Pioneer by the American Planning Association (APA). In 2017, he received the American Collegiate Schools of Planning’s Distinguished Educator Award, and in 2019 his landmark publication, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” was listed by the APA as a key timeline event since 1900 in the field of urban planning. The 2005 book has since been translated into other languages that include Russian, Chinese, Persian and Romanian.

Shoup followed up in 2018 with the publication of “Parking and the City,” which examined case studies of parking policies recommended in 2005 and outcomes in cities across the world that adopted those policies.

“Shoup is considered the world’s leading academic expert on policies, planning, travel impacts, environmental and social dimensions of parking,” Levine noted, pointing out that his analyses have led to policy changes adopted in various cities and have been emulated throughout Europe and Asia.

Shoup also was nominated and supported by colleagues including the late Marty Wachs, who passed away earlier this year.

“Professor Shoup has lived up to one of the early mottos of the Department of Urban Planning: ‘Linking Knowledge to Action,’” Wachs wrote in his nomination letter. He added, “In addition to scholarly writings addressing parking policy, Donald Shoup for decades advocated for public policies that reflected what he had learned from his research on parking.”

Wachs cited Shoup’s continued scholarship, teaching, mentoring, publishing and advocating on parking and other planning issues of public importance.

“Donald Shoup’s scholarship and advocacy related to parking are examples of what can be achieved when a strong background in the field of economics, meticulous empirical research and decades of attention to detail are combined and brought to the field of public policy and urban planning,” Wachs wrote.

Also supporting Shoup’s nomination was colleague Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy and the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA.

“In addition to his ongoing research, Professor Shoup remains a committed teacher and UCLA ambassador to the present day,” Taylor said. “In sum, UCLA Distinguished Professor Emeritus Donald Shoup continues to be a renowned and prominent scholar of land use planning, transportation policy, land development and local public finance; a talented and popular teacher; and an exceptionally influential contributor to public policy and planning practice.”

UCLA Model Identifies Neighborhoods Still at Risk as L.A. Reopens

A UCLA team has developed a predictive model that pinpoints which populations in which neighborhoods of Los Angeles County are most at risk from COVID-19 and, by extension, which should be prioritized for vaccines. The research – COVID-19 Medical Vulnerability Indicators: A Predictive, Local Data Model for Equity in Public Health Decision Making – is published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Health. With more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County has a larger population than 41 U.S. states. While many have been vaccinated, others in neighborhoods and communities at high risk of COVID-19 must be reached to fully re-open Los Angeles County, the authors said. The model maps the county neighborhood by neighborhood, based on four indicators known to increase an individual’s vulnerability to COVID-19 infection: preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges that create vulnerabilities. The research data demonstrate that neighborhoods characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and unmet social needs are still most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, specifically areas in and around South Los Angeles and the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley. Communities along the coast and in the northwestern part of the county, which have more white and higher-income residents, were found to be the least vulnerable. The study was co-authored by Professor Paul Ong, Chhandara Pech and Nataly Rios Gutierrez of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin and Vicky Mays, a professor with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and UCLA College.


Ong’s Research on the Asian American Experience Highlighted

Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong was featured in an Equitable Growth article about the economic experiences of Asian Americans. As a part of Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, the article highlighted scholars doing economic research on AANHPI populations and their experiences in the United States. Ong’s research focuses on people of color and immigrants in the the U.S. labor market, sustainability and equity, the racial wealth gap, and the role of urban structures in the reproduction of inequality. More recently, he has focused on the disproportionate economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Asian Americans, as well as the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. “The virus’s Asian origin may affect Asian Americans to a greater degree as racial and xenophobic tensions mount,” he explained. “The increase in discrimination against Asian Americans has manifested financially and commercially as customers, employers and co-workers base their economic behavior on discrimination.”

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Report Documents Struggle to Keep the Lights and Water On

A Grist article highlighted the findings of a UCLA Luskin report about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on utility debt, particularly in communities of color. Scholars from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge co-authored the report, including CNK Director Paul Ong, LCI Associate Director Greg Pierce, senior researcher Silvia González and graduate research fellow Ariana Hernandez. The paper, “Keeping the Lights and Water On: COVID-19 and Utility Debt in Los Angeles’ Communities of Color,” evaluates utility debt levels to measure residents’ difficulty paying rent during the pandemic. They found that one-quarter to one-third of households in Los Angeles have utility debt, but Black, Latino and lower-income neighborhoods are most severely impacted, as well as renters and people with limited English proficiency. The authors recommended developing and implementing debt-forgiveness and relief programs in order to support low-income households and severely burdened neighborhoods.

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Read the full report

Pandemic’s Impact on Asian American Businesses

The coronavirus pandemic has disparately harmed communities of color, including economically. This webinar will present findings from a recent survey conducted by the Asian Business Association. Findings highlight the impact of the pandemic and anti-Asian hate on Asian American businesses in Southern California, their access to relief and assistance, and their outlook for recovery.

Featured Experts:

  • Paul Ong, Research Professor & Director, Center for Neighborhood Knowledge – UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • Alycia Cheng, Project Coordinator, UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge & Asian American Studies Center
  • Karen Park, Chair of Asian Business Association Foundation and president of TEN Advertising

About the Experts

Paul Ong has a doctorate in economics and a professional degree in urban planning. His research focuses on the urban spatial structure; race and economic inequality, and urban labor market disparities. Professor Ong has served on advisory committees or as a technical advisor for numerous federal, state, and federal agencies, has been an expert for civil rights cases, and has actively partnered with community groups.

Alycia Cheng has worked in both research and publications roles with the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. Past projects include work in the areas of sustainability, neighborhood change, wealth heterogeneity among AAPIs, and urban inequality. She is currently a PhD student studying urban planning and development at USC with a focus on immigrant and refugee communities.

Karen Park provides leadership for the Asian Business Association Foundation which is focused on business education and training, research, scholarship, and economic development for the business community. She is an experienced executive in multicultural advertising and marketing, specializing in Asian consumers with TEN Advertising.

Sponsored by: Asian American & Pacific Islander Policy Initiative of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Asian Business Association, UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge

Free and open to the public.
Register at

Ong, Umemoto on Shortcomings of ‘Asian American’ Label

Research Professor Paul Ong and Urban Planning Professor Karen Umemoto spoke to Vox about concerns that the broadness of the term “Asian American” erases and flattens many of the cultures it encompasses. Asian Americans comprise 50 ethnic groups with more than 100 languages, but using the label “Asian American” fuels the myth that the group is monolithic. Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, explained that “Pacific Islanders were too small of a group in the mind of key decision-makers to report separately,” which led to their initial grouping as Asian Americans. Umemoto, director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, added, “There has long been a problem of lumping all of the groups together, which makes Asian Americans look well-off by some measures when averaged out as a sociopolitical group. But we’re a bifurcated community, with wide differences in well-being within and across ethnic groups.”

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Ong Featured in APA Tribute to Groundbreaking Urbanists

Paul Ong

The American Planning Association (APA) featured the work of UCLA Luskin Research Professor Paul Ong in a tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who have shaped the nation’s history and communities. Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, was one of 12 planners, architects, historians and community organizers who have “influenced our built environment, fought for historical and cultural preservation, and championed social justice to help make great communities for all,” the association’s Planning magazine said. Ong joins a list including modernist architect I.M. Pei, statesman Norman Mineta, Vietnam Wall designer Maya Lin and racial justice attorney Manjusha Kulkarni, who co-founded the hate crime reporting center Stop AAPI Hate. As a UCLA researcher and educator, Ong has specialized in urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies, with a focus on labor, environmental justice and immigration. Over the past year, Ong has examined the direct and indirect impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on people and communities as part of the COVID-19 Equity Research Initiative at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. The initiative focuses on systemic racial and class inequalities with the goal of developing insights that will lead to a just and fair recovery. The APA said its list of honorees, compiled in consultation with Asian American Studies scholars, is “intended to shine a spotlight on the many ways that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have built careers in service of their communities, especially in the face of adversity.”