Repeating History But Innovating: Social Housing and Urban Policy in Latin America Blog post from Professor Paavo Monkkonen via Global Public Affairs @ Luskin


By Paavo Monkkonen, Faculty Cluster Leader of Global Urbanization and Regional Development; Professor of Urban Planning

Although the major urbanization boom in Latin America occurred many decades ago, cities across the continent continue to grow rapidly and problems associated with adequate, affordable, and well-located housing are widespread. Housing policies designed to provide new, subsidized housing to low-income households still dominate (though the state no longer builds housing, providing assistance through the housing finance system instead), in spite of agreement among most experts that they are not the best way to ameliorate urban housing problems.

Unlike the inner-city public housing projects of the United States, public housing projects in Latin America are generally composed of small single-family homes located in far-flung outskirts of cities. They therefore suffer not only from problems associated with concentrated poverty, but more importantly a lack of urban amenities, poor public services, and a large distance from employment opportunities. Brazil’s most infamous peri-urban public housing development Cidade de Deus, portrayed in a film of the same name, was built in 1964 yet the new housing policy Minha Casa, Minha Vida is criticized for many of the same problems. Mexico has the largest finance driven social housing program in Latin America, and as a recent OECD report documents, faces major problems in new housing developments that lack public services, access to jobs, and as a result, among the highest vacancy rates in the world. In fact, scholars are framing the Mexican housing policy as a social interest housing planning disasterSocial housing programs in Chile and in Colombia face surprisingly similar criticism.

The philosopher George Santayana famously stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Kurt Vonnegut’s more prescient and useful retort is that “we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what.” Thus, perhaps the challenge to policymakers (and scholars) is simply to make sure our iterations of past approaches are innovative in some aspects. And there are innovations. Two notable areas are first, the application of inclusionary housing ideas in the design of public housing programs, and second, policies to promote densification of more accessible parts of cities with services.

Chile is the farthest along in taking seriously the idea of inclusionary zoning/housing – regulations that promote the integration of market-priced properties and subsidized properties in the same multi-unit buildings or within neighborhoods – in public dialogue and action. A notable example is the Project of La Chimba in the city of Antofagasta in northern Chile built from 2003 to 2005. In spite of shifting to demand-side housing subsidies in the 1990s, low-income homebuyers continued to be pushed into certain types of new housing developments that shared the same problems as those previously built by the public sector, including social segregation. To address this problem, a project was developed in Antofagasta that purposely had a range of housing types in the same neighborhood, including some market rate and some affordable to voucher holders. A case study of this project by Hector Vasquez Gaete will be available shortly from Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

New policies to promote housing construction in central cities are also being implemented in Latin America, with the goal of adding housing where there are already services, amenities, and access to employment. For example, property tax rates on vacant land in Brazil are on average five times higher than on land that has been developed. More aggressively, Bogota (which also has higher tax rates for vacant land) implemented a policy that forces the sale of vacant land that is not developed within two years of being identified. Land is then developed for social housing.

In order to make progress in the design of housing policies so that they do not repeat past mistakes and improve the lives of those living in Latin American cities, comparative research on what works, what does not, and why, is necessary. Fortunately, this type of investigation is ongoing and several notable examples have been recently completed; for example an overview book from the Inter-American Development Bank, a paper by Eduardo Rojas, and an edited volume on the inner-suburban neighborhoods of Latin American cities by Peter Ward, Edith R. Jimenez Huerta, and Mercedes Di Virgilio.

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Luskin Center sets out to make L.A. a greener place to live, work The Luskin Center for Innovation has set a goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles become more environmentally sustainable

By Cynthia Lee

Green power. Solar energy incentives. Renewable energy. Smart water systems. Planning for climate change. Clean tech in L.A. For the next three years, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has set an ambitious goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles and state and federal agencies reach the Holy Grail of environmental sustainability.

Five Luskin scholars are working on initiatives that could change how residents, businesses, industries and government meet the challenge of living more sustainably. The Luskin center is carrying out a mission that was broadly outlined by Chancellor Gene Block in his inaugural address on May 13, 2008: to marshal the university’s intellectual resources campuswide and work toward intense civic engagement to solve vexing local and regional problems. “I believe that UCLA can have its greatest impact by focusing its expertise from across the campus to comprehensively address problems that plague Los Angeles,” the chancellor told an audience in Royce Hall.

With an agenda packed with six hefty research initiatives, the center is diving into that task under the leadership of its new director, J.R. DeShazo, an environmental economist and associate professor of public policy who also heads the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. DeShazo took the reins in October when the center moved from the Chancellor’s Office to the School of Public Affairs, a move that took advantage of the school’s outward orientation. “It’s focused on policy solutions, so this is a natural place for us to grow,” DeShazo said. “But even though the center is located here, we’re very cross-disciplinary. We have researchers from chemistry, public health, engineering, the Anderson management school, the Institute of the Environment (IoE) and public policy.”

The five scholars working on the six initiatives are DeShazo; Yoram Cohen, an engineering professor and director of the Water Technology Research Center; Magali Delmas, professor of management and the IoE; Hilary Godwin, professor of environmental health sciences; and Matt Kahn, professor of economics in the departments of Economics and Public Policy and IoE. “We started off by identifying problems that our community is facing and that it can’t solve,” DeShazo said. Then, they asked two questions: “Does UCLA have the research capacity to address this deficit? And can we find a civic partner who can make use of this new knowledge?” Proposals were prioritized by a 16-member advisory board with a broad representation of business and nonprofit executives, elected officials and a media expert. Among the high-profile board members are State Senators Carol Liu and Fran Pavley; Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board; Los Angeles Council President Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel; Assemblymember Mike Feuer; John Mack, chairman of the Police Commission; and William Ouchi, professor of the Anderson School and chairman of the Riordan Programs.

“We take our research ideas and develop real-world solutions that can be passed on to a civic partner with whom we can engage and support,” DeShazo said. “We let them carry through with the politics of policy reform as well as the implementation. We don’t get involved in advocacy.” An array of local green research DeShazo recently completed Luskin’s first initiative with his research on designing a solar energy program for L.A. that would minimize costs to ratepayers. His research – the basis of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s new energy policy – proposes a solar feed-in tariff that would help everyone from homeowners and nonprofits to commercial property owners buy solar panels and be able to sell their solar energy to utility companies for a small profit.

Other Luskin research initiatives involve creating smart water systems for Southern California with water reclamation, treatment and reuse (UCLA researcher Cohen will work in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District); helping local governments plan for climate change (DeShazo with the California Air Resources Board and the Southern California Association of Governments); and reducing toxic exposures to nanomaterials in California (Godwin with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.) In another initiative in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the California Air Resources Board, researchers are compiling a database of jobs created by clean tech activities in L.A. County and will document best practices that other cities have used to attract and support clean tech development. Luskin’s Kahn is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to pinpoint what determines how much electricity is used by residential and commercial consumers and how the district can market its major green energy programs to increase participation.

Finally, Delmas is looking into whether the Green Business Certification Program approved recently by the City Council will reduce the overall carbon footprint of small businesses. The program offers incentives and assistance to small business owners in L.A. to become more efficient and less wasteful in their everyday practices. Those businesses that meet certain “green” criteria will be certified as being environmentally friendly. Her partner in this venture is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Mark Peterson on Passage of Health Care Reform Professor Mark Peterson recently went on Minnesota Public Radio to provide analysis on the historic passage of this week's health care reform bill

Professor Mark Peterson of the Department of Public Policy provided analysis of the historic passage of this week’s health care reform bill; he was featured on “Midmorning” with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio (along with David Drucker, staff writer for Roll Call; and Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women).

The following is an excerpt from the hour-long program:

KERRY MILLER (Midmorning, Minnesota Public Radio): “Mark, you hear competing arguments about this—the President will say economic recovery is linked to health care reform because it will allow businesses to do better planning, people aren’t going to be so worried about higher premiums, but then you hear Republicans say, ‘Look, this is going to be a jobs killer’ because you’ve got companies that are now going to have to offer health insurance because they’re going to pay a penalty if they don’t.”

MARK PETERSON: “Yes, and there are points to be scored on both sides of that, I think that it’s very important to make that linkage with the economy.  It is important to note that if the Congress had not passed any legislation at all and we continued under the current set of arrangements, the status quo was not going to be a stable experience.  Premiums were going to shoot up quite dramatically, millions more would be losing insurance, and a lot of that is also a drag on the economy as well.  And so you have to compare what is going to happen in the future under the bill, with what would have happened without the bill.

It’s also the case that there are many ways in which businesses right now, that really cannot afford to provide health insurance for their employees—small businesses—by 2014 as the exchanges are being set up, those businesses ultimately will have access to the exchange and be able to provide insurance to their employees at a much, much better rate than they can possibly do now in the small group market.”

Listen to the complete interview here.