Paul Ong’s Research Reveals Los Angeles’ Rent Burden Crisis

Paul Ong

Urban Planning professor Paul Ong’s latest research on the L.A. housing market has been highlighted in the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate’s monthly analyses of crucial real estate and economic issues.

The article, which is a condensed review of Ong’s paper titled “Impacts of the Widening Divide: Los Angeles at the Forefront of the Rent Burden Crisis,” delivers troubling news about the L.A. rental market – that it is the most unaffordable in the country and is the metro area with the largest share of renters vs. homeowners.

Ong writes:

“This affordability crisis has deep roots. Los Angeles has been a majority renter city since 1970. And the disparity between renters and owners reflects an economic divide that has widened over decades.

Our studies show severe housing burden among poor renters has existed since 1970, and that during periods of increasing inequality the burden has grown even more severe. Vacancy rates have risen only slightly – even dipping at times when housing burden has increased. And renters are paying more for the same quality housing, suggesting that neither market forces nor changing housing quality fully explain the increasing rents.

Altogether, the data show that the solution to this long-term crisis is to address its root causes – low incomes and high rents – by increasing both renter earnings and affordable housing.”

Ong and his co-authors Silvia Jimenez and Rosalie Ray also contributed an op-ed piece that was published in the Los Angeles Business Journal (subscription required).

Paul Ong Honored for Engaged Scholarship

Urban Planning professor Paul Ong has been named the 2013-14 recipient of the Don T. Nakanishi Award for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American Studies.

David K. Yoo, director and professor of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Department, announced Ong’s honor in a letter to colleagues:

“A long-time member of the Center’s Faculty, Professor Ong has dedicated his career of 29 years at UCLA to strengthen the bridge between ‘gown and town.’ In addition to his professorship at UCLA Luskin, he holds appointments in Asian American studies and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. He has also provided tremendous service and leadership for the UCLA campus, most recently as the Director of the Center for the Study of Inequality and Co-Founder and Senior Editor of the national AAPI Nexus Journal: Policy, Practice, and Community. Professor Ong received his B.A. from the University of California, Davis, a Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Washington, and the Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

“A prolific scholar, Professor Ong has authored or edited nine books and published over 70 journal articles and papers, including the influential and often-cited State of Asian American series of policy-related studies for which he served as research director. Professor Ong has taught key service-learning courses for both Asian American studies and Urban Planning at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In particular, Professor Ong has offered courses that are multidisciplinary and that are engaged with community-based research.

“Colleagues, community leaders and students overwhelmingly endorsed Professor Ong for the award. One community leader commented, ‘His entire career has been about having his research and scholarship translated into useful information to help the API community.’ Another community leader affirmed, ‘Dr. Ong has always sought to pursue research that is relevant to key issues in API communities, and more importantly, to work with community organizations who are engaged in those issues…At the same time, Dr. Ong maintains the highest standards of academic integrity in the research – he provides us with accurate data, analysis and the facts, even if sometimes the facts run counter to what we may have assumed—which is ultimately what is most needed and useful to inform our work.’

“At UCLA, Professor Ong’s innovative courses have pushed the academic boundaries outside the classroom in meaningful ways, as one faculty colleague stated, ‘His work has not only set a high standard for scholars with similar aspirations, but also been critical in bringing attention and much needed resources to many communities in Los Angeles. Without scholars like Professor Ong, the AAPI community in Los Angeles and in the nation would remain invisible or absent in public policy debates.’ As one student described, ‘Professor Ong’s intentions of partnering students with community partners was important in providing students like me, an opportunity to gain more cultural competency…the experience has guided my career decisions to work in the nonprofit sector…I am proud to know that our research was used as a tool for community building.’

“We are honored to present this well-deserved recognition to Professor Ong for his lasting efforts of putting research at the service of the community and his active role in engaging the public sector and policymakers in partnerships that lead to significant change.

“Through the generosity of UCLA faculty, students, staff, and alumni as well as community leaders, an endowment was established that honors Professor Emeritus Don T. Nakanishi, who served on the UCLA faculty for 35 years and who ably directed the Asian American Studies Center (1990-2010). Among his invaluable contributions to Asian American Studies, professor Nakanishi co-founded two, national publications: Amerasia Journal (1971) and AAPI Nexus (2003). Professor Nakanishi published widely in the areas of Asian American politics and education, mentored thousands of students, and provided professional and community-based service locally, nationally and internationally. The Nakanishi Award includes a five thousand dollar award. The award rotates annually between faculty and students. The graduate and undergraduate student awards will be given during the 2014-2015 academic year.”

Bluestone Kicks Off FEC Lecture Series

By Stan Paul

From President Obama and the Pope to venture capitalists and billionaires, “everyone is talking about inequality,” said Northeastern University professor Barry Bluestone in his Feb. 25 talk at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“This is new,” he added.

Bluestone’s presentation, “The Great U-Turn: Inequality in America 25 Years Later,” launched the Luskin School’s 2014 FEC Public Lecture Series. The events, which follow the theme of “Economic Inequality Through Multiple Lenses,” are sponsored by UCLA Luskin’s Faculty Executive Council, the Center for the Study of Inequality at UCLA Luskin, the Ralph and Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, among others.

While inequality in the United States is certainly not a new subject, focus on disparities among Americans and their relative freedom to pursue the American Dream has sharpened recently. In addition to a historical view of inequality in the U.S., Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern, provided new data that showed the situation has changed since he first reported his findings in the 1980s.

Among the headings of his presentation were insights such as: “Where inequality is greatest, so is the cost of living,” (Los Angeles was recently ranked ninth most unequal on a list American cities), and “Income Gains at the Top Dwarf Those of Low- and Middle-Income Households.” He presented data showing the percent change in real after-tax income since 1979 that resembled a craggy, but ever-growing mountain range of prosperity, culminating in a 201 percent increase for the top 1 percent. But, the categories of the next 19 percent, the middle 60 percent and the bottom 20 percent appear as relatively flat foothills in comparison.

As an explanation for the causes behind the divergent fortunes of the haves and the have-nots, Bluestone referenced an Agatha Christie novel to show that no one cause is to blame. Under the heading “Murder on the Inequality Express,” he ran through a top-ten list of suspects from technology to globalization to decreased union representation to trade deficits.

One chart, named “Income Growth and the Changing Distribution of Family Income,” came with a dour subtitle, “From Growth with Greater Equity…to Stagnation and Inequality.” Following World War II and decades of growth in income generally among most Americans, the “Great U-Turn” began in the 1970s, according to Bluestone, who used that term with his co-author Bennett Harrison as the title of their 1988 book. In the preface of the paperback version of that book, the authors wrote, “When we first wrote The Great U-Turn, we began with a simple and fundamental premise: what is essential to the American Dream is the promise of an ever-improving standard of living. Americans expect to find and hold higher-paying jobs as they get older, and they expect their children to fare even better…”

Prof. Bluestone put the “current concern about growing economic inequality into some historical perspective. He and Bennett were pioneers in this field,” commented Urban Planning professor Paul Ong, who directs the Center for the Study of Inequality at UCLA Luskin.

Counter to society’s expectations of ever-increasing prosperity, Bluestone showed evidence that family income mobility has stagnated in the decades since the 1970s. While expressing pessimism about any significant changes for “current generation income equality,” Professor Bluestone said that intergenerational improvement — or the prospects for children born into low-income families to advance to a higher level of wealth – might have more luck if major changes are made.

Bluestone suggested that universal quality prenatal care for all children and more spending on early childhood education would be the best investment to address the inequality gap. By better matching educational spending to the time when a child’s brain undergoes its period of most dramatic growth, the U-turn could be reversed, Bluestone said.

How much would this cost? “A fortune, but it would be worth it,” he said.

Bluestone’s presentation is available here.

The next FEC Public Lecture, scheduled for April 29, will feature William “Sandy” Darity of Duke University who will discuss “Race, Ethnicity and Economic Inequality.” 

Ong’s Students Provide Demographic Data for EmpowerLA

Students in Paul Ong‘s Urban Planning 214 class, “Neighborhood Analysis,” completed reports of important demographic information last fall about seven Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The series of reports, which integrated data collected in the field with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, were delivered to EmpowerLA, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. According to a blog post on the site, the reports will help Neighborhood Councils in the areas drive their engagement with and service to their communities.

“I am so impressed by the caliber of the students’ work,” said EmpowerLA general manager Grayce Liu, according to the post. “I think this asset mapping is essential for all Neighborhood Councils.”

Read the entire post and see the reports — which cover Valley Glen, Highland Park, Lake Balboa, South Central, Sunland-Tujunga, Van Nuys and Southwest — on the EmpowerLA website.