Armoring Up for the Fight Against Housing Injustice At a weeklong summer institute at UCLA, scholars and activists master the tools of research to advance safe shelter as a human right

By Mary Braswell

When Raquel Rolnik began her work for the United Nations Human Rights Council monitoring access to adequate housing, she found that the world body did not fully grasp the scope of the challenge.

“Adequate housing was seen as a problem of underdeveloped countries, those countries full of favelas, slums, barrios,” said Rolnik, who served as a U.N. special rapporteur from 2008 to 2014. “And of course it was not a problem at all in the developed world — at all.”

The global financial crisis of the last decade helped put that myth to rest, shining a spotlight on people in countries — rich and poor — who struggle to find secure housing, said Rolnik, who shared her experiences at a weeklong summer course hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

With “challenge inequality” as its rallying cry, the institute strives to advance democracy through research, critical thought and alliances between academia and activism. With that mission in mind, the institute developed the curriculum on “Methodologies for Housing Justice.”

‘We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.’ — Raquel Rolnik

More than 50 participants from universities and social movements attended the Aug. 5-9 course led by Rolnik and Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. A large Los Angeles contingent was joined by participants from Oakland, Orange County, Austin, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manila and other locales.

Their goal was to share knowledge, master the tools of research and strengthen their commitment to uphold what the United Nations calls a basic human right: a place to live in peace, security and dignity.

Nancy Mejia, who works with Latino Health Access and other advocacy groups in Santa Ana, said the swelling demand for stable housing in Orange County compelled her to take part in the summer institute.

For years, Mejia’s work centered on access to healthy food, open spaces and recreation, but she found that constituents forced to move from place to place could not take advantage of these programs. So she shifted her focus to tenant rights, rent control and other housing justice issues.

“We’re getting more organized, and this is the sort of place to come and hear what else is going on around the country,” Mejia said. “We are getting the tools, connections and networks to build our capacity as a movement.”

The summer institute underscored that, rather than a social good, housing has become a commodity used to enrich property owners.

The dozen instructors covered a broad spectrum of issues, including laws against squatting or sleeping in one’s car that in effect make poverty a criminal offense; the ethics of collecting and controlling data on private citizens; and the responsibility of researchers to take the next step — to act for the greater good.

“We are not talking about an individual process of eviction,” Rolnik said during a session on her work with the São Paulo Evictions Observatory. “We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.”

The Evictions Observatory was created to turn small bits of information collected from across the Brazilian metropolis into data-rich maps exposing broad trends of inhumane behavior.

Rolnik displayed a map highlighting pockets of São Paulo where at least 100 evictions took place within one kilometer — frequently in locations known for drug consumption or inhabited by non-white residents. At times, tenants were cleared out so that businesses could expand. In one case, she said, a building was demolished while squatters were still inside.

Largely powered by university students, the Evictions Observatory intervenes on behalf of the homeless and lobbies for “key-to-key” policies — that is, no person may be evicted unless he or she has a safe place to land.

The observatory is led by Rolnik, a professor, architect, urban planner and author. In addition to her position as U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, Rolnik has held positions with the Brazilian government, non-governmental organizations and academia. She currently chairs the design and planning department at the University of São Paulo.

“Raquel’s work and career to me have always been an inspiration for how one might in fact be both inside and outside powerful institutions and produce scholarship and frameworks of social change that are abolitionist, that are anti-colonial and that are committed to a human right to housing,” said Roy, who also holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA.

The summer course was offered through the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, which was launched by Roy’s institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, to unite movement-based and university-based scholars in the field.

That expression of solidarity attracted Joshua Poe, an independent geographer, city planner and community activist from Louisville, Kentucky. To sharpen his skills in urban design and data visualization, Poe returned to school to earn a master’s in urban planning but acknowledged that he has an “insurgent relationship” with academia.

“For a lot of people who’ve been doing movement-based research or movement geography or movement science, we’ve been somewhat isolated and somewhat invalidated at times and kind of gaslighted by academia,” Poe said. “But this institute lends not just legitimacy to what we’re doing but also expands our networks and emboldens our work in a lot of ways.”

Poe spoke after a day of lectures and training at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN, an advocacy group headquartered in downtown’s Skid Row. LA CAN, part of the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, also hosted a book launch for the English version of Rolnik’s “Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance.”

At the close of the summer institute, the work was not done. In the coming weeks, participants will craft chapters on key housing justice methodologies, which will be disseminated as a digital resource guide available to all.

“This open-access volume will be a critical resource for defining housing justice as a field of inquiry,” Roy said.

View photos from the summer institute on Flickr.
Summer Institute on Housing Justice

A Research Spotlight on the World’s Vulnerable People UCLA Luskin launches international outreach to identify strategies to empower women and children

By Mary Braswell

In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.

In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?

Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.

This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called International Development and Policy Outreach.

IDPO’s focus on global health and education comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.

“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.

Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.

Tanzanian boys peek into a clubhouse for girls launched as part of a health education campaign. Photo by Jennifer Muz

She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.

Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.

“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”

International Development and Policy Outreach integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.

The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, she said.

The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at IDPO have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.

In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.

Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.

Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.

“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”

This is the kind of practical impact that powers IDPO, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.

“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. “IDPO speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”

In Memoriam: Mark Kleiman, World-Renowned Scholar of Drug Policy Educator, prolific author and blogger provided extensive guidance to policymakers on marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform

Mark A.R. Kleiman, emeritus professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and one the United States’ pre-eminent experts on drug and crime policy, died July 21 after a long illness. He was 68.

Kleiman’s long list of publications includes his most recent co-authored books, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford University Press, 2012) and “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford, 2011), as well as “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment” (Princeton University Press, 2009).

He also worked at the United States Department of Justice, serving as director of the Office of Policy and Management Analysis, Criminal Division, and as the associate director for Drug Enforcement Programs. And he held posts as deputy director for management and director of program analysis for the city of Boston.

“Mark was a rare breed in academia, a truly Renaissance mind,” said Mark Peterson, professor of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School and one of Kleiman’s colleagues. “I quickly realized that he was both the smartest person in the building and among the funniest, with a quick wit that often required educational sophistication to fully grasp.”

Peterson added: “I can say that his network was simply enormous, encompassing friends, colleagues, mentees and protégés, graduate and undergraduate students, media figures, state and federal policymakers, all of whom he helped, he informed, he guided, and he just simply cared about.”

Kleiman also authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, technical reports and policy memos, as well providing articles and commentary for news media and book reviews and for professional publications. He served as editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis and was a referee for numerous professional policy journals. He also was an active blogger on “The Reality-Based Community,” focusing on public policy analysis of the criminal justice system, substance abuse, and drug policy in the United States and abroad.

Kleiman, who was born in Phoenix and grew up in Baltimore, graduated magna cum laude in political science, philosophy and economics from Haverford College. He earned his master’s in public policy and doctorate in public policy at Harvard.

He came to UCLA in 1996 shortly after the founding of the graduate program in public policy in what was then known as the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research. He served on the faculty of the Luskin School until retiring in 2015. He later joined the faculty of New York University, where he was affiliated with NYU’s Wagner School and served as director of the crime and justice program at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Prior to UCLA, Kleiman held academic posts at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and at the University of Rochester. He also served stints as a visiting professor at the Batten School of Leadership and Policy at the University of Virginia, Harvard Law School, and the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. He was a visiting fellow at the National Institute of Justice.

In addition, Kleiman served on the National Research Council as a member of the Committee on Law and Justice, and he was chairman of the board of the Los Angeles-based Botec Analysis Corporation, a research and consulting firm that develops solutions to issues in public policy in the areas of crime, justice and drug policy.

“Mark leaves behind a legacy — us,” said former student Brad Rowe, who earned his master’s in public policy in 2013, and who later worked closely with Kleiman. “He was a teacher first and foremost.”

Rowe said that Kleiman was a demanding instructor, but “he could always make you laugh with his ready-made arsenal of anecdotes.”

Rowe, who now teaches a public policy course at UCLA Luskin and serves as the school’s intellectual successor to Kleiman on drug policy, continued, “And, wow, I’ve rarely met someone who so loved seeing justice done.”

UCLA was the launching point and incubator for many of Kleiman’s ideas, Rowe recalled. “It was a safe haven where he valued the commitment this group has for thought and action rooted in truth, equality, dignity and public safety.”

Albert Carnesale, UCLA chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus of public policy and mechanical and aerospace engineering, first met his future colleague during Kleiman’s time as a doctoral student at Harvard.

“In addition to being an extraordinary fount of original ideas, deep insights, and rigorous and revealing analyses, he was a devoted mentor to generations of students, a valuable colleague, a caring friend, and a compassionate and effective advocate for fairness and justice,” Carnesale wrote in an email after learning of Kleiman’s death.

Former student Jaime Nack, the president of Three Squares Inc. and who graduated with a master’s in public policy in 2002, wrote: “Mark Kleiman was an amazing professor … He truly cared that we mastered the material. He knew it would serve us in life and in our careers.”

No services are planned. He is survived by a sister, Kelly Kleiman, who posted on social media: “If you are moved to honor him, please donate to the NYU Transplant Institute, the ACLU, or any Democratic candidate.”

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

Dean’s Message Our professional programs uniformly train students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective

Making a difference…

I left traditional social science to come work in a public affairs environment because I had grown frustrated at the slow pace with which esoteric findings in those disciplines find their way into public discussion and social reform — if, indeed, they ever do. This is not to say that this work never reaches a broader audience, but the frustrating truth is that too big a share of that work has no impact outside the journals and libraries in which it is deposited. Part of that is the unfortunate distance between academia and the “real world,” but part of that rests with the choice of “problem” and the approach to research preferred by those disciplines and scholars. That is, some of this failure to have broader influence is on the professors and institutions themselves.

Contrast that with the work of UCLA Luskin. On April 24, the Luskin School hosted its first-ever regionwide summit, themed “Livable LA.” Around 350 policy professionals, civic leaders, business leaders, scholars and elected officials gathered to discuss solutions to many of Los Angeles’ longstanding challenges. Each panel featured Luskin research, and each panel was addressed to making change — using the findings of our work to effect practical change in Los Angeles and beyond, making the lives, families
and communities in our region better.

It is this spirit that animates our work and UCLA Luskin, and it is this mission that we bring to our classrooms and our communities. Our professional programs uniformly train master’s degree students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective. Our doctoral students research real problems of real people. Our undergraduates will all spend time working directly in the community. And our faculty members engage the real world and all its challenges as the foundation of our research. It is why we are here.

In these pages, you will read of a trip by UCLA Luskin social workers — faculty and students alike — to the immigrant detention camp in Dilley, Texas. That effort — to bring comfort, support and social services to families who have endured unspeakable hardship — represents the very best of who we are and what we do at UCLA Luskin. I am unbelievably proud of their efforts and humbled by their sacrifice to help these desperate people.

Make a difference,

Gary

A Nexus of Latin Cities New initiative Ciudades finds common ground in urban spaces across the Western hemisphere

By Mary Braswell

They came from Sacramento in the north, Mexico City in the south and points in between, drawn to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs by a common pursuit: increasing access to high-quality housing in urban areas where opportunities abound.

It’s a worthy goal, shared across borders but beset by a lack of consensus on how to achieve it. So planners, professors and government officials from throughout Mexico and California gathered to share their insights on moving forward, invited by one of UCLA Luskin’s newest ventures, the Latin American Cities Initiative.

The workshop visitors — along with urbanists throughout the region — have much to learn from one another, said Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, and founding director of the initiative, known as Ciudades.

“Los Angeles is home to millions from across Latin America,” Monkkonen said. “Because of this shared history and present, and because of the potential for urban learning across the region, we established Ciudades to deepen our connections and intellectual exchanges.”

Launched in early 2019 with the support of UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, the initiative is just the latest example of the School’s global ambitions and outreach.

With the international city of Los Angeles as a home base, faculty have spearheaded research into HIV-infected youth in sub-Saharan Africa, mass protests in Ukraine, sex markets in Indonesia and degradation of the Amazon rainforest, among many other pursuits.

The School’s Global Public Affairs program brings graduate students into the mix, preparing them to navigate an increasingly integrated world. GPA students choose from a wide array of concentrations, including political dynamics, health and social services, the environment, development, migration and human rights.

Ciudades zeroes in on the Western Hemisphere. The binational, bilingual workshop on urban housing was just the type of cross-pollination of ideas that the initiative was created to foster.

In cities across Mexico and California, low-density sprawl has limited access to jobs, transit, retail and parks, creating roadblocks to prosperity. But federal and state programs to remedy this with denser urban development have met with resistance from municipalities, which often face political blowback.

Bridging this divide was the aim of the Ciudades workshop. Planners, academics, students and officials from all levels of government, including the cities of Tijuana, Ensenada, Compton and Los Angeles, came together to share data, resources and cautionary tales. Among them was Haydee Urita-Lopez MURP ’02, a senior planner with the city of Los Angeles.

“I’m just very happy today that we’re able to collaborate at this academic and practical level,” Urita-Lopez said, inviting her colleagues to continue the conversation in the weeks and months ahead. “We share an integrant political, social and cultural history. … Geopolitical lines on a map have not erased our cultural ties.”

Ciudades focuses on urban spaces in the Americas, but the topics it embraces are unlimited. Local democracy, public finance, indigenous populations and historical preservation will steer the dialogue in a knowledge network that reaches across disciplines as well as borders, Monkkonen said.

He envisions field visits by faculty and students from each of UCLA Luskin’s graduate departments, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Grants and internships will promote Latin-focused student research.

Monkkonen’s studio courses in Baja California provide one model for learning: Students identify a problem, define the scope of their analysis, then conduct interviews, site visits and scholarly readings to develop practical solutions.

Ciudades also brings voices from across the Americas to campus. Over the 2019 winter quarter, students and the public heard from experts on social mobility in São Paulo, indigenous groups in Cancun, sustainable development in Bogotá and many other topics as part of the weekly Ciudades Seminar Series.

“Academia and professional practice can benefit a lot from greater levels of communication,” and that interplay creates a spirited learning environment, Monkkonen said. When students speak with practitioners, both sides ask questions that professors may not have thought to ask, he added.

The connections that Ciudades is forging will make UCLA Luskin a draw for graduate students, planners and policymakers from across the region, Monkkonen predicted. Looking ahead, he envisions quarter-long exchange programs with universities in South America and Central America.

“Our student population is so Latin-descended, and many want to study in the places their parents are from,” he said.

Monkkonen has been interested in the Spanish-speaking world since he can remember. Enrolled in a Culver City elementary school that offered one of the first language immersion programs, he became fluent as a child. As a young man, he taught English as a second language in Spain and Mexico. His wife is from Mexico and his daughter is a dual citizen. Monkkonen is a permanent resident of Mexico and is currently applying for dual citizenship.

Much of Monkkonen’s long-term research is based in Mexico, but he has also conducted studies in Argentina, Brazil and across Asia. UCLA Luskin, he said, is an ideal laboratory for urban studies in the region.

In March, Ciudades posed the question “Is L.A. a Latin American City?” Author and journalist Daniel Hernandez and UCLA’s Eric Avila debated the question at a forum moderated by Monkkonen.

The answer, they concluded, was both yes and no.

Los Angeles “is developing in a way that only benefits the people who already have money,” a familiar pattern in Latin American cities, Hernandez said.

Avila, a professor of Chicano studies and urban planning, said the city’s population and built environment are very Latin but “Los Angeles is not a Latin American city in regard to the historically sustained efforts to whitewash and erase the Spanish and Mexican past.”

The panelists touched on racial hierarchies, environmental justice, gentrification, food, art and identity. It was merely one of many conversations Ciudades intends to spark.

“We hope that this initiative is just the beginning of something larger that deepens ties across South, Central and North America,” Monkkonen said.

Zoe Day contributed to this report.

Her Personal Journey Forged a Path for Others Founder of outreach to women in the sex business is named alumna of year by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare

By Mary Braswell

Harmony (Dust) Grillo clearly recalls those moments when she knew she could change the trajectory of her life.

At a group home where she lived briefly in high school, a counselor told her he was going to college because “‘I’m going to be the first black president of the United States.’” He was not Barack Obama. But his words made her rethink her opinion that school was a waste of time.

“I remember really being moved by his belief in himself and his audacity,” Grillo said. “And I made a decision that day that education could be a life raft for me, to get me out of the situation that I was in.”

That situation was forged by a childhood of trauma. Since the age of 5, she had suffered sexual and emotional abuse. At 13, she was left to care for her 8-year-old brother for three months, with nothing more than $20 and a book of food stamps. In her teen years, she became entangled in toxic relationships with men in her neighborhood.

By age 19, she had $35,000 in debt. Her boyfriend persuaded her to earn money as a stripper, just for a couple of months. Three years later, she was still in the business.

Grillo had not given up on her education. With a 4.0 GPA from Santa Monica College, she had been accepted at UCLA. By day, she was a studious psychology major. By night, she was “Monique” at a strip club near LAX.

Then came the next pivot that changed Grillo’s life. A friend encouraged her to come to church, where she heard over and over that she was made for a purpose.

“I was in the club one night, and it just dawned on me that this couldn’t be what I was put on this planet to do,” she said.

Grillo walked away from the strip clubs, the controlling boyfriend and the belief that she had no power over her life. Her calling, she decided, was to use her pain to help others heal. And then came another turning point.

She was on track to earn a Ph.D. in psychology but switched to the MSW program at UCLA Luskin.

“People who can afford psychologists don’t tend to be the kind of clients that I felt drawn to. That’s why I switched over to social work,” she said.

Just as she began her graduate studies in 2003, Grillo launched Treasures, an outreach to women caught up in the sex business. The timing was perfect, she said. She used research assignments, literature reviews and behavior analysis to expand her understanding of women in the commercial sex industry, as well as her own past.

“I began to recognize that, oh, this thing that I keep seeing, these women who again and again feel like they just can’t take that next step forward, oh, it’s learned helplessness,” she said.

At the Luskin School, Grillo earned a spot in the competitive CalSWEC program, which funds graduate education in exchange for service in the Los Angeles County child protective services.

“Harmony had this kind of light about her, this energy,” said Laura Alongi Brinderson, who has been with CalSWEC since 2001 and now serves as its coordinator. “She really had compassion and empathy for people who walked a difficult road.”

Alongi has followed Grillo’s career as it branched out from direct outreach to program development, fundraising and “how to keep an agency running.”

“Part of our mission at Luskin is to encourage leadership, and she really has established herself as a leader in her field. She has created a national hub for this type of work,” Alongi said. “It’s been incredible what she’s been able to do.”

Since Grillo received her MSW in 2005, Treasures has blossomed. From their base in the San Fernando Valley, known as the capital of the porn industry, the staff of four has trained a multitude of volunteers from 120 cities on six continents.

“It can be overwhelming,” said Grillo, who is also kept busy with a husband, 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, as well as the recently published second edition of her memoir, “Scars and Stilettos.”

Her faith-based nonprofit interacts with women in strip clubs and the porn industry, on online forums where sex is sold, and in juvenile detention centers. Its signature outreach is a small gift bag with donated cosmetics and resources. No pressure, Grillo said, just information.

For women who choose to leave the sex industry, Treasures offers many services, including a survivor-led support group, financial assistance, even a wardrobe closet. This spring, the closet was filled with elegant dresses that women could wear to the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala.

In May, UCLA Luskin honored Grillo’s accomplishments by naming her the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year.

“When I’m looking at the trajectory of my life, and I’m looking at those defining moments along the way, I see people who had an opportunity to influence my life” — an important reminder for those in the field of social work, Grillo said. “Maybe they never knew what kind of impact they were having. But they had an impact.”

‘Because of His Work, We’re Ready for This Fight’ Symposium honors urban planning pioneer Leo Estrada, a lifelong champion of equal representation

By Mary Braswell

The life and work of Leo Estrada, a pioneer in urban planning and a tenacious advocate for equal representation, inspired a daylong symposium at UCLA that examined demography, redistricting and the power of mentorship.

Estrada, associate professor emeritus at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, fought for voting rights, access to health care, and protections for elderly and minority populations until his death in 2018, just months after retirement.

The May 31 symposium and subsequent memorial gathering brought together many of those whose lives were touched by Estrada: fellow scholars, former students, family members, political figures and civic leaders who shared his commitment to social justice.

A keynote address about Census 2020 demonstrated how Estrada’s early strides in population research and his long service as an advisor to the U.S. Census Bureau resonate today.

“The history of the Census runs parallel with the trajectory of the Latino community and Leo’s career,” said Arturo Vargas, president and CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit that promotes Latino participation in civic life.

Calling the possible inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form a “virulent challenge to our values and principles as Americans,” Vargas noted that efforts to suppress the count of Latinos are not new.

“This fight began decades ago and with fierce opposition,” he said. “One of our warriors along the way was Leo Estrada.”

Vargas pledged, “We will not be rolled over. We will not be scared away. We will not make our community invisible. …

“Fighting for a fair and accurate census is to continue Leo Estrada’s work and legacy. Because of his work, we’re ready for this fight.”

The symposium, organized by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, explored the power of population studies to effect systemic change and explained the historical roots of today’s fight for minority-majority voting districts.

One panel focused on the importance of mentoring the next generation of leaders. To advance this goal, UCLA Luskin established the Leobardo Estrada Fellowship Fund, which supports Urban Planning students with financial need who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in graduate education.

Estrada’s 40-year career was marked by innovation and leadership on and off the UCLA campus. He was one of the first scholars to teach courses about diversity and planning, and he helped guide the university as chair of its Academic Senate. In addition to his service with the Census Bureau, he was an advisor to organizations focusing on Latino empowerment, aging, health care, law enforcement and many other issues.

Following the symposium, speakers gave tribute to Estrada as a teacher, colleague, advocate, friend and family man.

Ivelisse Estrada described her husband as selfless, wise and patient with his family and “the ultimate professor” to his students.

“Leo was soft-spoken but the power of his words and his work were a catalyst for change,” she said. “Make him proud.”

Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija harkened back to Estrada’s retirement celebration, saying he wished he had taken the opportunity to touch his colleague’s feet, a sign of respect in the Indian culture.

With this gesture, he said, “You get blessed. And in that blessing, the person who blesses you transmits their knowledge, their experience, their virtues. And I know all of us would love to have a little more of that from Leo.”

 

View photos from the symposium and memorial gathering on Flickr.

Demography, Redistricting & Power

Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 Named Public Policy Alumnus of the Year New member of the Fresno City Council is honored at alumni reception and luncheon

Public Policy hosted its 21st annual alumni reception and luncheon on May 18, part of UCLA’s campuswide Centennial Launch. Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who recently won election to Fresno’s City Council, was honored as 2019 Alumnus of the Year. Esparza thanked his UCLA Luskin professors, staff and peers, adding, “When one of us gets elected to office or serves in a position and does good in the community … that reflects greatly upon all of us.” Two first-year students were awarded fellowships made possible by an alumni fund. Irma Castaneda was recognized as “an extremely driven, organized and selfless person who is often looking for ways to help others, especially first-generation students and those who are not well-represented and advocated for in both the MPP and higher education overall.” Devon Schechinger was honored for bringing together classmates in social gatherings aimed at “making our communities and our environment healthier and safer. … She has the quiet determination of an effective change maker.”

UCLA Luskin has followed Esparza’s journey as a public servant:

 

‘My experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable. It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom.’ — Esparza after winning election to the Fresno City Council in 2018

Read more: UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins

‘The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district. I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.’ — Esparza after winning a seat on the Fresno County School Board in 2016

Read more: A Crash Course in Politics

View photos from Public Policy’s alumni reception on Flickr.

Public Policy Alumni Reception and Luncheon