Creating ‘Home’ in a City of Renters Panel discussion at UCLA Luskin highlights L.A. rental protections

Amid California’s ongoing housing and affordability crisis, numerous efforts are underway to protect tenants. But, they’re only as good as the enforcement behind them, as was made clear at a recent UCLA Luskin event.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed various tenant protections into law, including establishing statewide rent stabilization and just-cause eviction protections, and prohibiting discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers. Locally, other proposals like a right to counsel are being considered.

At the same time, numerous reports of landlords scurrying to evict tenants or drastically raise their rents before the new law goes into effect Jan. 1 have prompted cities across the state to enact emergency moratoriums.

Evictions, tenant protections and enforcement were among the topics at the Nov. 20 event designed to highlight the state’s persistent problem. “Eviction and Code Enforcement: Making Rental Housing ‘Home’” was part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series co-hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Ziman Center for Real Estate.

Speakers included Michael Lens, associate faculty director at the Lewis Center, Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of Housing Rights Center, and chief inspector Robert Galardi with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department which oversees multifamily rental units.

Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said academic research into evictions has not kept pace with community activists.

“This is an area in which advocates and tenants’ rights groups have been working, agitating and talking about the plight of people who have been displaced from their homes for a very long time,” he said.

Part of the reason academia might be behind is that eviction data are hard to come by. “Data is spotty and incomplete. We have some very specific data on evictions that doesn’t give you every type of eviction,” Lens said.

In a forthcoming research paper, Lens and his team reviewed more than 700,000 court-based eviction cases in Southern California between 2005 and 2015 to ascertain what types of neighborhoods see more evictions. They found that neighborhoods with higher populations of African Americans and higher poverty rates saw high rates of eviction.

A separate study currently underway is focusing on two types of evictions in Los Angeles — court-based evictions and no-fault, otherwise known as Ellis Act eviction petitions.

The L.A. study has not produced as consistent a story because Ellis Act evictions are harder to predict, Lens said. Regardless, city and county officials should be monitoring these data on a regular basis to focus on what neighborhoods are seeing growth in evictions, he added.

Al-Mansour of Housing Rights Center helped the audience to understand the human impact of these evictions.

She shared the story of an African American client who had been using Section 8 vouchers for housing for 20 years in South LA. When new owners took over the building, they issued a 90-day eviction notice to everyone using the vouchers. It took her client longer than anticipated to find someplace that would accept her voucher, but she lost her new unit when the paperwork failed to arrive after being mistakenly sent to the old address. She quickly went from living in her car to living on the streets and suffering abuse.

“She’s now suffering from severe mental trauma and will be very, very hard to house,” Al-Mansour said. “If this law would have been in effect 18 months earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Al-Mansour also shared information about various rights held by tenants, including a right to withhold rent to ensure habitable premises. She also discussed a variety of landlord disclosure laws that could nullify a rental contract when violated.

“Oftentimes, people don’t know their rights; they just know something is wrong,” she said, adding that those in the audience should be ambassadors and share what they’re learning with their neighbors and communities.

Los Angeles, where 70% of people rent, has one of the strongest code enforcement programs. Unlike other cities, L.A. enforces penalties against owners for citations and violations.

Started in 1997, the city’s code enforcement program proactively inspects all multifamily rental units in the city every few years.

Galardi gave an overview of the city’s inspection program, which is housed in the Housing and Community Investment Department. More than 100,000 rental properties comprise about 850,000 multifamily rental units in the city. The program’s goal is to inspect each unit once every four years, but the department looks more often at some high-risk units that have had issues and citations during previous inspections, Galardi said.

“The benefit of this program for tenants is that this is a proactive inspection,” Galardi said. “That takes the burden off the tenant in terms of [fear of] retaliation, which is a big concern for renters in the city.”

Code enforcement also builds in follow-up visits to ensure that necessary repairs are addressed by landlords.

As a mechanism of tenant protection, Galardi said code enforcement inspectors are the “boots on the ground going to the units” and raising awareness among tenants about their rights.

To view a recording of the event, visit the Lewis Center’s YouTube page.

View additional photos on the UCLA Luskin Flickr channel:

 

Housing, Equity and Community Series

An Outdoor Oasis for Angelenos in Their Golden Years A Westlake park designed for older adults brings UCLA Luskin research to life

By Mary Braswell

At Los Angeles’ new Golden Age Park, garden beds are raised far above ground so that visitors can tend to flowers and vegetables without stooping down.

Lawns, pathways and exercise areas are laid out on one seamless plane — a stumble-proof surface for those who move about with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

Once a vacant lot, this tranquil green space was designed with older adults in mind — the culmination of research spearheaded by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“It’s a little oasis in the city, less than a third of an acre,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who launched the study of senior-friendly open spaces that would eventually evolve into a blueprint for Golden Age Park.

Expanding knowledge to bring real change to people’s lives is a core part of UCLA Luskin’s mission. But researchers rarely see their ideas brought to life so vividly, Loukaitou-Sideris’ team agreed.

At Golden Age Park, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or simply rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude. Shade trees, roses and purple sage create a pocket of nature on a street lined with apartment buildings.

The park’s architects relied on a toolkit called “Placemaking for an Aging Population” that was created by Loukaitou-Sideris’ team of urban designers, planners and gerontologists. The guidelines were shaped by case studies from around the world as well as input from older adults just around the corner.

The team reached out to St. Barnabas Senior Center, which serves the largely low-income and minority residents of Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, just west of downtown. In focus groups conducted in Spanish, Korean and English, St. Barnabas regulars said they did not feel comfortable going to nearby MacArthur Park but would welcome a safe and accessible outdoor space geared toward their age group.

Loukaitou-Sideris’ team also partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to parks and gardens, particularly in communities of color. The group had been eyeing a lot at 739 S. Coronado St. — just a three-minute walk from St. Barnabas — hoping to convert it into a park.

With support from numerous foundations, government agencies and neighborhood partners, the trust purchased the lot, which had sat vacant for nearly 30 years. And with guidance from Loukaitou-Sideris’ team, Golden Age Park came to life.

“This is a model for how to work with local universities and thought leaders to put research into practice,” said Chandelle Wiebe, director of development and communications for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

Shortly after its November grand opening, Loukaitou-Sideris visited the park with other members of her research team: Lené Levy-Storms, associate professor of social welfare and geriatric medicine; Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Lia Marshall, a doctoral candidate in social welfare.

Loukaitou-Sideris recalled the inspiration for the study. “It all started in Taiwan,” where years earlier she had visited a park crowded with older adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation. In the United States, by contrast, many parks are constructed with children in mind, and the over-65 population often feels unwelcome.

“I had been doing this work on parks,” she said. “But I am not a gerontologist.”

“And I had never built a park,” said Levy-Storms, whose research in gerontology focuses on intergenerational communication.

The two created the team that applied for a grant, conducted interviews, studied park accessibility in other cultures and eventually produced the toolkit for senior-friendly open spaces, which has been honored by the American Planning Association.

“This park is so reflective of our research because it brings together urban design, planning and gerontology,” Brozen said as she and her colleagues admired the age-appropriate features of Golden Age Park:

  • Pathways form a loop lined with distinctive landmarks to guide those who sometimes lose their way.
  • A sloped ramp, elliptical trainer and tai chi wheel offer opportunities for a low-impact workout.
  • High fences and a clear sight line to the street provide a sense of security.
  • Seating areas made of temperature-sensitive materials include benches with arms for those who need to steady themselves as they sit or stand.
  • A children’s play area welcomes park-goers who would like to bring younger relatives along.
  • The raised gardens invite visitors to plant and prune without having to bend.

Some of the St. Barnabas seniors said they hope the park becomes a community treasure, a place where all generations can come together to make friends, learn other languages and share the vegetables grown in the garden.

And the park is welcomed by its neighbors. At the grand opening, “a woman from the apartment complex next door was very vocal about loving this park,” said Marshall, who also lives in the neighborhood. “She said she was going to be looking out for it.”

View more photos of Golden Age Park on Flickr.

Golden Age Park

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

Powerful Latinas From 5 States Offer Inside View of Politics Legislators from the southwestern U.S. provide insight during a panel discussion hosted by UCLA Luskin

By Les Dunseith

In an era when politics often seems to consist of partisan bickering and legislative stonewalling, it may seem that nothing of importance is happening in government. But a recent panel discussion hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative showed that real impact is still being made in many statehouses. And the growing prominence of Latina elected officials is a big reason why.

Latina legislative leaders from five states in the southwestern United States — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico — traveled to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles to participate in a panel discussion.

“Tonight is a special evening for us,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin, in her opening remarks. “This is actually a rare time where Latinas are going to be over-represented on stage.”

Jennifer Medina, a national correspondent for the New York Times, led the questioning of the panel of state senators. She began by asking the panelists, who are all Democrats, to reflect on what has changed in recent years to make it possible for more women of color like themselves to win elected office.

The panel cited changing demographics and the backlash against unpopular efforts by conservative lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration as keys to mobilizing opposition in states such as California and Arizona. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of New Mexico cited a third reason for a recent surge in minority officeholders.

“A big trigger for the change — and it’s a dramatic change and it’s happening now — was the election of this president,” she said.

The desire to mobilize the Latino electorate to help oust Donald Trump from the White House in 2020 was a recurring theme of the panel discussion.

“The federal government is like a dumpster fire right now. Congress is broken,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales of Colorado. “So there has been a tremendous amount of responsibility that has fallen to us in the states to be able to actually show what governance looks like.”

Unlike the other four panelists, Sen. Rebecca Rios of Arizona holds elected office in a state that is controlled by Republicans. She says the GOP’s dominance of political races there has been gradually eroding.

 Arizona’s going to be pivotal in the 2020 presidential race. No doubt about it,” Rios told the crowd of about 200 people at the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative event. Trump’s margin of victory in her state was less than 4% in 2016, and “there is a massive effort by nonprofits and [Democrats] to energize our base and register people of color to vote in 2020.”

There are no shortcuts to building political success, the candidates said. It takes time, effort and experience.

“What I’ve learned my whole life, as a union organizer, was you have got to have a base … that’s mobilized and that’s continuously pressing the issues forward,” said California Sen. María Elena Durazo, who said she feels a responsibility “to vote the right way” on issues of importance to Latinos.

Pushing legislation of importance to Latinos, which some people call identity politics, can be tricky for elected officials to navigate. Their political views can be misconstrued or mislabeled. In the view of Nevada Sen. Yvanna Cancela, it’s important to talk about race, gender and minority representation in inclusive ways that bring people in rather than pushing them away.

“The constitutions of our states were written at a time where people who look like us didn’t have representation,” Cancela said, motioning to her fellow Latinas. “They are not systems designed for people like us to operate in, and have power in. And to fundamentally change those systems, we need our teams to be as big as possible.”

The panel noted time and again the importance of seeing all issues as important to Latino communities while highlighting a few issues they see as critical to Latinos and women.

“There are still so many hard-working people who are just poor and, you know, have to live bunched up in a small apartment,” said Durazo, who emphatically underscored poverty during the panel. “Those are outrageous things. That should be the Latino agenda. That’s what we should all be on the same side of fighting for.”

Others highlighted education and climate change, noting these issues are being championed in the Latino community.

Sedillo Lopez, the state senator from New Mexico, said she has seen growing agreement that elected officials should take action because of global warming and the environment “and what it means for our children.”

“[It’s] women and Latinas who are bringing this to the forefront,” she said. “And that’s why we need to be elected. We need to express ourselves with our very, very powerful voices.”

Medina closed out the panel by asking the panelists: “What’s keeping you up at night?”

Cancela answered quickly, drawing laughs: “Donald Trump’s Twitter account keeps me up at night.”

Gonzales is focusing on championing legislation in Colorado, but “as I head into this next legislative session, it will be, ‘What can I do differently?’” she said. “Can I do work that will have a concrete impact on people’s daily lives?”

Rios said the ongoing immigration crisis is never far from her thoughts. “What has made me cry is the reality that we’re tearing families apart, that we have children that are literally languishing without parents and with no idea what’s happening to them.”

But, ending on a hopeful note, Rios noted that her position of influence helps to create space for others, particularly the children who visit her office.

“This is my opportunity, hopefully, to engage these children — to let them know, ‘This is your Senate. You belong here,’” Rios said. “If I can do nothing else but make our children, our people, recognize that they belong and that we need them in positions of power, making decisions that are going to affect them and their families and our communities, then I’ve done my job.”

View images from the event on Flickr:

LPPI Latina Politics Panel

Making the Most of the Student-Mentor Connection Annual Senior Fellows Leadership breakfast puts spotlight on a successful partnership

By Mary Braswell

A student and mentor brought together by UCLA Luskin’s Senior Fellows Leadership Program shared stories of their rewarding yearlong partnership at an Oct. 24 breakfast launching the initiative’s 23rd year.

The gathering at the UCLA Faculty Center gave this year’s class of 45 Senior Fellows a chance to meet the graduate students they were matched with and hear insights from Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges board of governors, and Irma Castañeda, a second-year master of public policy student.

“The best thing about being a fellow here is you get to work with so many smart, conscientious and diverse students,” said Epstein, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow since 2015.

Castañeda said she applied for the program last year to broaden her understanding of career options in the public policy field.  She accomplished that and much more, she said.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a first-generation professional, and I was navigating this space as a new student,” she said. By the end of the year, Epstein had helped her to build a professional network in Los Angeles and Sacramento and land a summer internship tailored to her interests in higher education.

At their monthly check-ins, Epstein and Castañeda talked about classes, career goals, internships and job prospects. Epstein also provided email introductions to key figures in his field and invited Castañeda to a meeting and dinner of California Community Colleges governors.

The life of a graduate student can be filled with coursework, campus activities and outside jobs, Castañeda said, but “it’s really important to prioritize this experience.” The Senior Fellows Program offers a rare gift — sustained one-on-one access to a leader in the public, private or nonprofit sector — and students should make the most of it, she said.

She also encouraged her classmates to take full advantage of the resources offered by UCLA Luskin’s Career Services team, led by Executive Director VC Powe.

View more photos from the Senior Fellows breakfast on Flickr.

The first step, Castañeda said, is to ask questions — lots of them.

She learned this during her search for a summer internship that would help her learn more about the community college system. Finding none, she consulted career counselor Donna Lee Oda, who helped her edit her resume, craft a cover letter and pitch herself as a summer intern candidate.

Epstein connected her with the deputy chancellor of California Community Colleges, who created a research internship just for Castañeda. She spent the summer conducting analysis for the governmental relations division and presenting her findings at a legislative briefing at the state Capitol.

“It was something that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t asked,” she said.

Epstein said he is grateful for the chance to serve as a Senior Fellow, recalling that an internship while he was at UCLA Law launched a rewarding career. He thanked his own mentor, Zev Yaroslavsky — then a young city councilman and now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin — who was present at the breakfast.

Epstein’s career journey took him through politics, healthcare, insurance, media and the environment, in addition to higher education. He has worked in the White House, state government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Students mentored by Epstein through the Senior Fellows program are now working at the California Endowment, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the California Department of Finance, Green Dot Schools and L.A. Care. One is a doctor with Kaiser Permanente and another is a teaching assistant at UCLA, he said.

Epstein addressed the public policy, social welfare and urban planning students gathered at the breakfast. “I’m grateful for your commitment to public service,” he said, “because our country needs you.”

This year, 37 returning Senior Fellows were joined by eight new mentors:

Warren T. Allen MPP ’03, founding member and attorney with WTAII PLLC

Nahtahna Cabanes MSW ’13, vice president of strategic partnerships with L.A. Works

Ken Chawkins BA ’85, business policy manager with the Southern California Gas Company

Elizabeth Forer CEO, Venice Family Clinic

Louise McCarthy MPP ’04, president and CEO at Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, BA ’97, executive vice president of Community Coalition

Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the International Rescue Committee

Nancy Sutley, chief development officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Street Art Meets Climate Science in the Big, Blue Face of Zeus Massive mural in South L.A. is painted with a surface-cooling coating to start a conversation about our warming world

By Mary Braswell

The gigantic mural at the corner of Avalon and 62nd in South L.A. is super cool. The face of the Greek god Zeus painted in electric blues against a black background looks down as people walk by on the sidewalk and cars pass on the street. At 72 feet wide and 27 feet high, the street art makes a big, bold statement in a neighborhood of warehouses and loading docks.

It also literally cools down the brick wall it’s painted on.

Created with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30 percent, the so-called eco-mural aims to tap into the popularity of street art to start a conversation about climate change, said V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Project leaders V. Kelly Turner, left, and Lizy Dastin. View more photos from the “cool art” mural project on Flickr.

Turner conducts research on urban design and the environment, including the effectiveness of cooling surface paint to combat the “urban heat island effect” that drives up temperatures in cities. She does extensive work with the city of Los Angeles, which is testing the reflective coating on streets in every council district.

“L.A. has the first-of-its-kind cool pavement project. And we’re also a vanguard for supporting the street arts,” Turner said. “But no one’s ever done a street art intervention or mural using cool paint.”

To make that vision a reality, Turner reached out to street art advocate Lizy Dastin, who teaches art history at Santa Monica College. Dastin recruited muralist Eric Skotnes from the activist art collective Indecline, whose work blending graffiti art and classical figures has been commissioned on spaces across the United States and as far away as Israel and Peru.

By the time the mural Turner envisioned was unveiled — on an October day when temperatures in Los Angeles hit 95 degrees — the list of collaborators included artists, urban planners, climate scholars, community activists and entrepreneurs. But as Skotnes put the finishing touches on the towering face of Zeus, the excitement was tempered by the gravity of the underlying issue.

Turner cited research showing that extreme heat leads to more deaths than all other weather-related hazards combined. The danger is especially acute in cities, where buildings, roads and parking lots trap heat during the day and hold on to it into the evening, making afternoons and nighttime temperatures unnaturally hot.

In Southern California, cities often run 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the undeveloped regions that surround them. By 2021, as climate change intensifies, Los Angeles could experience an additional 60 to 90 days of temperatures above 95 degrees every year, UCLA research shows.

Facing that grim prospect, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has commissioned several urban design interventions — including planting trees and applying cool paint to roofs and streets — to fulfill his pledge of lowering citywide temperatures by 3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2035.

To help the city gauge the effectiveness of the cool pavement strategy, Turner travels across the region to collect field data on the reflective paint. She has attached 100 tiny sensors to key fobs and placed them in trees in Ontario, Watts and Fresno. Along with collaborator Ariane Middel of Arizona State University, she has accompanied a temperature-sensing robot named MaRTy as it trundled down the sidewalks of Pacoima and Ontario to measure how the average pedestrian would feel the heat.

While other studies have focused on surface temperatures, the research by Turner and Middel is the first to determine the cool pavement sites’ “mean radiant temperature,” a more accurate predictor of thermal comfort for humans. The suite of measurements includes surface and air temperature, long- and short-wave radiation, wind speed and humidity.

The two researchers found that cool pavement surface temperature is lower than untreated asphalt at all hours, but mean radiant temperature can be almost 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the afternoon. Turner noted, “Cool pavement is not a panacea but one tool of many in making climate-adapted cities that are less hot.”

It’s all part of what she calls a “fantastic urban experiment.”

“Anytime a city does something like this — green interventions, let’s call them — as scholars, it’s incumbent on us to evaluate them using the tools of science,” she said. “We are really doing what’s called ‘adaptive management’— do, learn from doing and adjust.”

Turner is a social scientist who identifies urban design problems and builds teams to develop answers. That skill was clearly evident in the network she built to make the South L.A. mural a reality.

The idea for the project came in the middle of the night, she recalled. She immediately sent predawn emails to Dastin, a friend from their days at Wellesley College and founder of the street art advocacy venture Art and Seeking, as well as research partner Middel, who conducts climate studies as director of the SHADE Lab at Arizona State.

Armed with a thermal camera, Middel captured the heat signature of the finished mural, swirls of yellow, orange and purple that showed the effects of the cooling paint.

“That’s the most exciting part. The art exists in the visual spectrum and the infrared,” Turner said. “It’s interesting from an artistic perspective because it’s a different artistic parameter, a challenge for the artist.”

Muralist Skotnes developed the Zeus concept in tribute to the building owner, Amped Kitchens, whose logo includes a lightning bolt — the god of sky and thunder’s weapon of choice. The building houses a community of Los Angeles food makers who rent state-of-the-art production, packaging and storage facilities. Owners Mott Smith, a UCLA alumnus, and Brian Albert are advocates of sustainable urbanism and eagerly offered their 1920s-era building as a canvas for the mural.

The solar reflective coating was donated by Creative Paving Solutions of Arizona, and the project was underwritten by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles.

Turner sees the mural as an eye-catching way to raise public awareness about the urgent need to adapt to a warming world. But she says her end goal is to offer practical, data-based solutions for cities like Los Angeles.

“As a human environment geographer,” Turner said, “my passion is trying to think through how to make this research more useful for a city planner who needs to figure out, ‘OK, I’ve got this intersection, how can I make it cooler for people waiting for the bus?’ ”

The “cool art” mural as seen in infrared, left, and to the naked eye. Photos by Ariane Middel

A Wealth of Knowledge About Debt In a new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Hannah Appel will focus on the future of finance in an era of mass household indebtedness

By Les Dunseith

There are at least 13,500,000,000,000 reasons why people should care about the expertise of Hannah Appel and what she will be bringing to her new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

That eye-popping number represents $13.5 trillion — the Federal Reserve’s current estimate of consumer debt (which Appel prefers to call “household debt”) in the United States.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, says Appel’s scholarship and her participation in organized efforts to combat predatory financial practices make her an ideal fit for a leadership role at the institute, which promotes a unique pairing of research and critical thought with social movements and activism in its efforts to combat societal inequalities.

“Hannah Appel is one of those rare academics whose scholarship has had a direct impact on the urgent social justice issues of the day,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “We expect that she will greatly expand the impact of the institute on one of the key structural processes of inequality in the United States: crushing debt and predatory financialization.”

Financialization, which relates to a “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy,” according to Forbes, will be a primary focus for Appel as she oversees one of the four research streams heralded by the institute — “Debt and Predatory Financialization.”


‘You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have.’
—Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology and global studies

One of her first goals? Rethink the name.

“I feel like debt is something that people feel trapped in — in a kind of permanent way. ‘I’m in it and I can never get out of it,’” Appel said.

By changing the terminology — the working title is the “Future of Finance” — she hopes to redirect conversations toward solutions; specifically, to look at the power that debt can wield if leveraged collectively. “You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have,” Appel said.

Although Roy and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy she founded in 2015-16 are based at UCLA Luskin, the mission has always been cross-departmental. Appel is an assistant professor of anthropology and global studies in the UCLA College and co-founder of the Debt Collective, an activist group that organizes debtors’ unions.

As she was finishing her doctorate in anthropology from Stanford during the Great Recession, Appel landed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York City that happened to coincide with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement there.

She soon found herself amid a collection of like-minded activists and intellectuals who were troubled by the fact that so many people wound up losing their homes as a result of greed and risky financial decisions made by wealthy investment interests.

“Why is it that this kind of drama on Wall Street is dispossessing people of their homes or knocking people out of their jobs?” Appel recalls thinking at the time. “People used to phrase it about 10 years ago as the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. And I was very compelled by that question.”

The search for an answer relates directly to Appel’s involvement in social movements — and the promise of her role at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Viewed in isolation, she says, household debt may seem like a personal problem. But in aggregate — remember that $13.5 trillion? — such debt is potentially a new form of collective financial power.

Appel studies and teaches on the daily life of capitalism, from transnational corporations and the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States, where household indebtedness has become increasingly systemic during the last 30 years.

The astronomical rise in student debt is certainly part of that. “But there are people indebted for their own incarceration and having to pay legal fines and fees,” Appel said. “And then, of course, there is scale. It scales to municipal debt — where our cities are indebted and can no longer afford to fix streets or fund public schools.”

At the heart of Appel’s scholarship are people in crisis.

She cites an all-too-common example of a person saddled with student debt and household debt who then gets cancer and discovers that health insurance doesn’t fully pay for chemotherapy.

“If they can manage to pay for the chemo and still make the mortgage payments, of course they’re not going to pay their student loan, right?” Appel said. “So, there are ways that these forms of debt are always intersecting and can never be understood separately.”

Regarding student debt, she is encouraged that “transformative policy proposals are on the table” in the current presidential campaign. “Certainly, it’s the first time in my lifetime that there are two articulated proposals to discharge all $1.6 trillion in student debt,” Appel said, noting that other policy proposals would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges like the University of California system.

Even if such sweeping policy changes never come to pass, however, Appel is certain that solutions to predatory financial practices can be achieved. It’s an optimism that is based on her own experience.

Appel’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street and her ongoing research related to the anthropology of capitalism led her to help found the Debt Collective. It’s an approach that borrows from workers’ unions by bringing together people with shared leverage over the financial system.

“If one of the very simple lessons of a union is that there’s power in numbers, then what would collective action under finance capitalism look like? Thinking analogously to workers’ unions, then the answer is debtors’ unions,” Appel said.

Soon after it started, the Debt Collective found success by uniting former Corinthian College students who were saddled with debt. At the time, Corinthian was the second-largest national chain of for-profit colleges in the country.

One group of people in Ontario, California, had a “tremendous amount of debt from the Corinthian Colleges. Some had degrees that were worthless or had dropped out because they realized how much debt they were accruing and how bad their education was,” Appel said.

The Debt Collective began working with Corinthian College debtors and this initial effort eventually led to “an enormous union of for-profit college debtors — roughly 150,000 people … and that union has discharged over $1 billion of for-profit students’ debt.”

Appel says this example shows that debtors’ unions can work.

She pauses to contemplate years of study, struggle and frustration that finally seem to be paying off in benefits for people in need. Appel takes a deep breath, smiles, then continues.

“You know, I also have a tremendous amount of student debt myself. I was thinking of making T-shirts that said, ‘I am your professor. I also have student debt, and I think yours is unjust. Let’s talk.”

Battleground Legislators Meet at UCLA to Develop 2020 Strategies Two days of leadership training energize lawmakers from Arizona, a state that reflects the nation’s changing demographics

By Maria Morales

“You’re the next frontier.”

Those were the words of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura as he welcomed Latino legislators from Arizona to a two-day leadership academy at UCLA this summer.

The elected leaders came to deepen their understanding of educational, economic and social issues in Arizona and craft policies to address the needs of the state’s Latinos.

This is a crucial time to look at the opportunities and challenges faced by Arizona’s elected officials, said Erica Bernal, chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and advisory board member of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The conference, which was held Aug. 16-17, was hosted by the two organizations, along with Arizona State University’s Center on Latina/os and American Politics Research.

One of the country’s fastest-growing states, Arizona will be “the marquee battleground state in 2020,” said LPPI faculty director Matt Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA. The number of eligible Latino voters will be at a record high and the bilingual electorate will be a driving force in the campaign, he said.

For candidates, Barreto said, this creates a challenge: How will they connect and engage with this emerging demographic?

During workshops, conference participants explored demographic changes in the Latino community, the importance of state budget realities, lessons learned from former elected officials, and the essential role of accurate data in crafting policy.

Research- and evidence-based policymaking was a recurring theme throughout the two days. Edward Vargas, professor at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, shared current polling trends, strategies on how to analyze this data to determine its legitimacy, and best practices on using the numbers to build support among stakeholders.

Vargas also encouraged legislators to think of possible polling questions to engage and communicate with their constituents, keeping in mind the need for culturally relevant questions and true representation of the community.

The conference provided the 13 members of Arizona’s Latino caucus with the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a support network and learn how to incorporate research into their policymaking.

During the gathering’s second day, legislators applied the lessons they learned at a practicum led by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging and professor of social welfare and public policy. The skill-building exercise allowed the legislators to incorporate polling data and effective messaging to develop sound legislative policy ideas.

“It was great to see it all unfold,” said Amado Castillo, a third-year undergraduate policy fellow with Latino Politics and Policy Initiative. “The practicum was quite inspirational as it not only gave the legislators the opportunity to use real examples to formulate policy proposals but also allowed us to look and see what type of legislators they are and what they prioritize.”

The Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and its partners will continue the training academy in December in Tempe, Arizona, and will host two roundtables in Phoenix, the state’s capital, in January and February 2020.

View more photos from the leadership academy on Flickr and Facebook.

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 the Global Lab for Research in Action.

The Global Lab’s focus on health, education and economic empowerment 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.”

The Global Lab integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.

“There is so much potential in bringing our international findings back to the United States, too, by identifying how our research can inform programs and policy here,” she added.

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

The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at the Global Lab 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 the Global Lab, 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. The Global Lab “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.”

Editors Note: A previous version of this story referred to the Global Lab for Research in Action by its former name, International Development and Policy Outreach.