Listening to — and Learning From — Urban Youth of Color New research by UCLA Luskin faculty finds young people who are actively engaged in civic improvement and eager to be heard about solutions

By Les Dunseith

In places where exposure to violence is prevalent, those seeking to advance causes on behalf of urban youth of color should start by listening to the young people themselves, according to a new publication from two UCLA faculty members.

What do such youth say about violence in their neighborhoods?

“You see it everywhere. You could ride down the street, you would see somebody arguing. You go down another street, see somebody fighting,” said Justin, a 17-year-old black and Asian youth.

“I don’t like it. It’s too many killings. … I can’t choose, I can’t do nothing about it. I’m still young,” said Salome, a 16-year-old Latina.

So, what can be done — and by whom?

“We all have to communicate and cooperate. …  I just feel like if everybody just came together and put their minds together about what the community should be and how it should be, I think the community would probably be much better place for kids to grow up,” said Jamal, a 17-year-old black youth.

“Why we got a mouth?” asked Kendra, a 15-year-old black youth. “Our opinions do matter. It can even change the world.”

These four interviewees were among 87 youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods in Rochester, New York, who spoke with Associate Professor Laura Wray-Lake for a qualitative study of youth engagement. She was joined in analyzing the information by co-author Laura S. Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. Their monograph — essentially an eight-chapter book on one topic — was made available online May 12 by Monographs for the Society of Research on Child Development, a respected quarterly journal.

“The purpose of the study was to understand how civic engagement is defined and experienced by these youth of color in their own words and from their own perspectives. We also wanted to know what assets and adversities young people experienced that shaped their civic engagement,” Wray-Lake said of the publication, “Pathways to Civic Engagement Among Urban Youth of Color.”

The monograph, which is accompanied online by teaching and outreach materials, is based on data collected by Wray-Lake in 2015-16 when she was on the faculty at University of Rochester. The interviewees ranged in age from 12 to 19, and were mostly black (61%) or multiracial black (27%). A majority (60%) were male. About one-quarter had parents who had completed high school, and 36% had a parent who attended at least some college.

The study participants did more than just express strong opinions. Many took action to benefit others. The most common type of civic engagement was helping out in the community — mentoring younger children at the recreation center, for example, or participating in an annual community cleanup. Some youth helped their neighbors by mowing lawns or shoveling snow.

“Some youth were civically engaged by intervening to protect others from harm, and this was a form of civic engagement not often recognized in the literature,” Wray-Lake said. “A number of youth described helping to stop or break up fights to protect a friend, or talking a friend out of joining a gang.”

Although political engagement was much less common among the youth she interviewed, Wray-Lake said a few talked about sharing posts on social media to speak out against injustice or joining marches or protests against gun violence.

The monograph is based upon work funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Wray-Lake sees value in publishing it during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the ways that youth can connect with others, navigate community spaces and participate in civic life.

“In this time when people are confined to their homes, we hope this work contributes to conversations about reimaging community spaces for youth that are safe, supportive and prioritize their voices,” Wray-Lake said.

She and Abrams believe the findings can lead to more-informed policies related to investing in safe spaces and community-led anti-violence initiatives for urban youth of color.

Civic empowerment was one of two key factors that influenced the level of engagement among study participants.

The other?

Feeling heard and supported by adults.

 

Participation in 2020 U.S. Census Is Falling Behind UCLA analysis shows the current rate of response is at least 11 percentage points lower than in 2010

By Les Dunseith

The national response rate to the U.S. Census is lagging well behind where it was at a similar point a decade ago, according to an analysis spearheaded by Paul Ong, a research professor and director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

Ong said shutdown orders related to the novel coronavirus pandemic seem to be a factor in suppressing the response rate, which is now at least 11 percentage points lower than it was for the 2010 census through late April.

The UCLA researchers noted that the self-response phase of the current census began March 12, which happened to coincide with mandated restrictions on gatherings and physical movements imposed in the state of Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee — some of the earliest such rules in the nation. His order also closed all schools in the three counties most affected by the coronavirus at the time.

Within a week, even more extreme physical distancing measures were in effect in states such as Washington, California and New York — and soon throughout the nation — as public officials ordered businesses to close and citizens to remain at home in an attempt to slow the advance of COVID-19.

Paul Ong is director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin. Photo by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

“April 1 was designated as Census Day in an effort to highlight the importance of a complete and accurate count of American citizens,” said Ong, who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Census Bureau as part of his scholarly activities at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “But that designation proved to be ceremonial at best, drawing little media notice or public attention with the vast majority of Americans hunkered down at home as a result of the shelter-in-place strategy.”

Ong said his findings are worrisome and seemingly at odds with the positive message coming from the Census Bureau. A bureau email blast sent in late April, for example, declared “an important milestone in the 2020 Census. More than half of all the households in the country have responded — that’s 77,500,000 households so far!”

Ong said crossing the halfway mark in the census count is less impressive when one looks below the surface. He noted, for example, that on April 18, the New York Times reported that the COVID-19 crisis had seriously hampered the response to the census, causing the Census Bureau to adjust its timeline and prolong the collection process to counter any shortfalls. The agency had earlier extended deadlines to complete its operations.

“The adjustments are framed and justified as necessary to protect the health of census workers and the public, which is obviously valid and prudent,” Ong said. “But nothing was mentioned about the need to extend census operations because of any possible lack of progress.”

The 2020 census is the first to allow people to respond online, by phone or by mail, while the 2010 census was limited to mail responses only.

In its analysis, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge compared the overall response rate so far to the mail-in rate at the same point for the 2010 census. The researchers looked at both the 2010 mail-response rate — the total number of filled-in and returned forms divided by the total number of addresses in the government’s master address file — and the mail-return rate, the number of returned forms divided only by the number deliverable and non-vacant addresses.

 

When the three measures are plotted on a graph, it is apparent that a slowdown in 2020 census responses coincides with the timing of the COVID-19 crisis. By March 22, the 2020 rate had slipped below the rate of return for both of the 2010 measures and has continued to lag since then. Since April 24, the date of the email blast from the Census Bureau, the 2020 response rate has never gotten closer than 11 percentage points below both of the 2010 measures, the UCLA analysis shows.

The researchers note that because the 2010 mail-return rate has a smaller denominator, it has a higher value than the 2010 mail-response rate. According to the Census Bureau, the 2010 mail-response is more compatible with how the 2020 response rate is being calculated.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, other factors may be hindering 2020 responses, Ong said. Those barriers may include a lack of access to the internet, which is the primary mode of data collection for the 2020 census; a nationwide increase in vacant and seasonal housing; and the growth of the historically harder-to-reach Hispanic population.

The decennial census is required so that congressional seats can be reapportioned to account for geographic shifts in the population. The official count is also used for redrawing electoral district boundaries for congressional, state legislative and local jurisdictions. Equally important, the numbers are used in allocating public funds and helping to provide a clearer picture of the nation’s population and housing stock.

Unless steps are taken immediately to boost response rates, Ong is worried that the 2020 census is experiencing “a real and present danger of having one of the most incomplete census enumerations in history.”

Based on historical precedent, the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge analysis predicts that an undercount would disproportionately affect low-income residents, people of color and immigrants.

“The Census Bureau is not to be blamed for the dire circumstances that have upended everyone’s life,” Ong said. “What is required now, however, is mobilizing community organizations and groups to work collaboratively with public agencies to minimize the damage. We need to focus scarce resources to do everything in our power to ensure inclusion in the census of society’s most marginalized people and neighborhoods.”

Questions about the study may be directed to Paul Ong at pmong@ucla.edu

To inquire about the proprietary data used to build the chart, contact Les Dunseith at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, ldunseith@luskin.ucla.edu

Virtual Conference Shines Light on Women’s Transit Safety Issues New UCLA report on transit safety of college students is released during InterActions LA

By Lauren Hiller

A new UCLA study found that being a woman, identifying as LGBTQI, having a long commute, or waiting in poorly lit areas significantly increased the likelihood of being sexually harassed on public transit.

In the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Transit Safety Among University Students,” Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and researchers sought to better understand the characteristics of individuals and circumstances that increased their risk of harassment during their public transit journeys.

Professor Loukaitou-Sideris reported the findings during the Lewis Center’s April 3 InterActions LA conference, which brought together researchers, transit agencies and community activists around the topic of women’s safety in transportation.

The study surveyed 1,284 students from UCLA and the California State University campuses of Los Angeles and Northridge. According to the report, this population was chosen because university students are typically more transit-dependent than the general public, and because their young age may make them more vulnerable to victimization. Los Angeles was one of numerous cities studied as part of a global research project.

Much of the preexisting data on perceived safety and incidents of sexual harassment on transit in Los Angeles did not identify such characteristics as gender, sexuality and race. This study also uniquely delved into when in the course of a transit journey — walking to or from a station, waiting for the bus or train, or on the actual vehicle — sexual harassment occurred.

According to the study, 72% of respondents experienced some form of harassment on a bus, compared to 48% on rail, with women experiencing far more numerous instances than men. However, very few students (10%) reported the experience to either law enforcement or transit agencies. And more than half of women reported changing how they dressed or adjusting their travel patterns, such as riding only during daytime or waiting in well-lit areas.

Because women make up more than half of transit riders in the United States, Loukaitou-Sideris said it’s imperative to prioritize their safety.

“Their safety is an important concern that we need to tackle if we want to have more women riding transit and — for women who are already captive transit riders — riding transit more comfortably and without fear,” she said. “I think everyone deserves that in our transit systems.”

Safe Transit During COVID-19

The challenges that women and vulnerable populations face have only been magnified by the current COVID-19 crisis. Under statewide and local “safer at home” orders, it is frequently low-income women of color who are still traveling to work to provide essential services to the rest of the region, according to the other panelists at the InterActions event, including speakers from Pueblo Planning, Los Angeles Walks and Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA).

“COVID-19 has revealed that our transit system is a lifeline,” said Mariana Huerta Jones, senior coalition and communications manager at ACT-LA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring equitable access to public transit infrastructure and funds.

During the InterActions presentation, Huerta Jones said public transit is often the only transportation option available to low-income residents working in jobs deemed essential in industries such as grocery stores, hospitals and sanitation.

Ensuring Women’s Safety

Other InterActions speakers like Monique López, founder and social justice planner at Pueblo Planning, spoke about the importance of including the voices of marginalized communities when crafting policy recommendations. And Daisy Villafuerte, advocacy and engagement manager from Los Angeles Walks, discussed grassroots efforts to improve transit experiences.

Presenting the next steps from LA Metro’s recent “Understanding How Women Travel” report, Meghna Khanna, senior director of the Countywide Planning and Development Department, and her team found that safety is still the biggest concern and barrier to riding transit for all women riders. While 60% of women felt safe traveling on Metro during the day, that number decreased to 20% at night.

Khanna and her team at LA Metro found that women frequently mentioned increased police presence as a solution that would help them feel safer on transit; however, not all transit riders agree.

“For many people of our community, more police doesn’t mean more safety. It can actually mean the opposite. It can mean racial profiling, harassment, criminalizing of poor or houseless individuals,” Huerta Jones said.

Solutions beyond policing — such as increased service frequency, improved cleanliness around stations, and the presence of non-police transit ambassadors — are just first steps in ensuring women can use transit without fear.

View a video about transit safety:

Opinions About Quality of Life in L.A. Vary Sharply Across Generations Annual UCLA survey finds less optimism among young and economically stressed residents

By Les Dunseith

Residents felt slightly better than last year about life in Los Angeles County, according to UCLA’s fifth annual Quality of Life Index, which was conducted just as the coronavirus crisis descended on the region last month. Ratings increased in all categories, with the exception of the two most directly affected by the pandemic — health, and jobs and the economy.

The overall quality-of-life rating rose from 56 to 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100) in the survey, released April 23 by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Responses varied dramatically by age and household income, however. The survey took place between March 18 and 26, which coincided with the implementation of strict social distancing measures in the county and state.

“The slight increase in county residents’ satisfaction may be more of a reflection of the past year’s quality of life than of the new reality with which we have all been living for the last six weeks,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “Since then, we have been in uncharted territory, which we will be able to better measure in the months ahead.”

The onset of the COVID-19 crisis may have contributed to a sharp increase in how important health was to respondents when compared with the other survey categories. Sixty-five percent said health was of high importance in rating their quality of life, an 8% increase over the 2019 survey. This was second in importance only to the cost-of-living category, which has been the most salient category of the Quality of Life Index, or QLI, since its inception in 2016.

A telling takeaway from this year’s survey is a growing generational and economic divide among county residents. Respondents were asked whether Los Angeles is a place where people who work hard can get ahead. While 41% answered yes, a majority of 55% said no. That pessimistic outlook was held by 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 62% of those living in households with annual incomes of less than $60,000.

Housing and the fear of homelessness also remain priority issues for county residents. When asked whether they are worried about losing their home and becoming homeless as a result, 31% of respondents answered yes, an increase of 9% over last year. Thirty-nine percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39 and 48% of those with household incomes of less than $60,000 said they were worried.

“The notion that nearly 2 out of 3 younger and lower-income earners increasingly believe they are at an economic dead-end is a most distressing finding in our survey,” Yaroslavsky said. “When nearly 4 out of 10 young and economically stressed Angelenos go to bed each night worrying about becoming homeless, we are all diminished. This is a troubling trend that continues to plague our society.”

The QLI is a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment. Researchers ask a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results are being released April 23 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is being held virtually this year because of the ongoing health crisis. The host of that session is Adrienne Alpert of ABC7 in Los Angeles, where she is a reporter and host of a public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.”

As in previous years, the 2020 QLI’s categories fell into three distinct tiers in terms of respondents’ level of satisfaction: a bottom tier including cost of living (45), education (50) and transportation and traffic (53); a middle tier including the environment (58), jobs and the economy (59), and public safety (64); and a top tier including health care (69), race relations (71) and neighborhood quality (71).

Overall satisfaction with quality of life rose across all age groups in the 2020 survey. Those aged 40 to 49 matched the index’s average score of 58, but those aged 39 and younger gave a rating of 54. Those older than 50 gave a 61 rating, a significant increase over last year. Older respondents are generally more satisfied with their financial security in retirement, while younger residents are less secure and more concerned.

Other key findings

  • The results of questions directly related to the coronavirus were released publicly on April 8. County residents expressed high concern over the virus’s impact on their health (79%) and economic situation (82%). In addition, 61% gave local public health officials high marks for their response to the pandemic, compared with 39% for federal officials.
  • Almost two-thirds of people surveyed (63%) favor building housing in their neighborhoods to help transition people out of homelessness, as long as the housing includes access to medical and social services and has on-site security.
  • Sixty-two percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. A majority of respondents (53%) had a favorable opinion of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but less than one-third (31%) had a favorable view of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, while 34% said they had no opinion and 13% had never heard of Villanueva.
  • Roughly 4 in 5 respondents (79%) expressed satisfaction with race relations in the county, and this strongly positive opinion was reflected across all demographic groups in the survey: Latinos (80%), whites (81%), Asians (77%) and African Americans (77%).

“One year from now, we will be living in a different world,” Yaroslavsky said. “In the past, Los Angeles has faced and overcome great challenges, but we are now in the midst of a crisis we could have never imagined. Next year, we will certainly know more about the extent of our region’s resilience.”

The 2020 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of 1,503 county residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of ­­plus or minus 2.5%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

 

View a PowerPoint presentation about the 2020 L.A. County Quality of Life Index

 

View additional information about this year’s study and previous studies housed at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies

‘All of This Is Going to Change Us’: Two Deans on the State of COVID-19 Leaders of UCLA's Public Affairs and Public Health schools launch Luskin Summit 2020

By Mary Braswell

The opening session of the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit drew a far-flung virtual audience seeking authoritative, research-based information about the questions on everyone’s mind: What are the prospects of containing COVID-19? When and how should social distancing restrictions be relaxed? What have we learned from this shared global ordeal?

Two UCLA deans, Gary Segura of the Luskin School of Public Affairs and Ron Brookmeyer of the Fielding School of Public Health, drew on their expertise about the pandemic’s health and policy implications at the April 22 event, the first of at least a dozen online sessions that will be offered by the Luskin School in April, May and June.

“COVID has done us one favor,” Segura said. “It’s allowed us to see things more clearly than we did before the crisis,” including the searing depths of inequality in the United States, the importance of a competent government and the discovery that a simpler life can be rewarding.

In terms of slowing the spread of coronavirus, Brookmeyer said, “The current lockdown has bought ourselves some time. The question is, are we making the best use of this time?”

The insights shared by Segura and Brookmeyer came as UCLA Luskin launched the Summit’s second year, wrapping up the School’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Moving from an on-campus location to an online platform in response to the coronavirus’ spread widened the audience for the opening session. More than 400 people watched via Zoom and Facebook Live, from Southern California to New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Houston and Myanmar.

Viewers were invited to pose questions to the deans, whose conversation was moderated by Adrienne Alpert, host of ABC7’s public affairs program Eyewitness Newsmakers. Some asked about prospects for lifting orders to limit social contact.

Brookmeyer called for caution. “If we don’t have the necessary public health infrastructure in place, this thing will just explode again,” said the dean, who has conducted extensive research into the arc of illness and epidemic around the world.

He explained that different models make starkly different predictions about the virus’ march and described the protracted process of testing, manufacturing and administering an effective vaccine — a process he said is bound to take longer than the 12 to 18 months some are estimating.

“Without a vaccine, we may need intermittent periods of physical distancing to avoid overloading the health care facilities,” he said. “If we suppress this first wave, do we have the public health infrastructure in place to contain future waves?”

The eventual relaxation of social distancing restrictions should be gradual, strategic and nuanced, he said, predicting that wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and closely monitoring the most vulnerable populations will be necessary for some time.

“All of this is going to change us, and it’s not completely clear how,” Brookmeyer said.

“The challenges, and particularly the inequities, are going to be profound,” Segura concurred.

Latino households are particularly hard hit by the coronavirus’ economic impact, he said, citing a nationwide survey. While proposals to institute relief for those unable to pay their rent or mortgage are promising, the number of homeless is bound to rise by the end of the crisis. And the need for computers and broadband access in homes — where K-12 students are now learning remotely — has turned public education into a “luxury good,” Segura said.

Still, both deans found cause for optimism.

Brookmeyer cited the public’s new appreciation for the people and institutions that guard the nation’s health. “The public health infrastructure had been really underfunded, and I think calling attention to this will help us in preparing for future public health emergencies,” he said.

Segura pointed out that “COVID is changing our lives in a million ways,” and not all of them are bad.

One example: “Has anyone noticed the air in Los Angeles? It’s crystal clear,” he said. “Do we want to go back to sitting on the 405 [freeway] for an hour?”

By necessity, telecommuting has been tested across sectors in the past few months, Segura noted. Some employers have found new ways to measure productivity, and some workers have found valuable uses for time once spent commuting.

“These are things that we’ve become used to and that we’ve internalized into our COVID quarantine lives. And I’m not so sure we’re going to be all that happy to give them up,” he said.

“COVID has actually revealed some things that we can do better to improve our quality of life.”

Visit the UCLA Luskin Summit page for a lineup of upcoming sessions, as well as recordings of past sessions as they become available.

Perseverance Amid the Pandemic UCLA Luskin alumni social workers reveal some fear and frustration and a whole lot of dedication

By Les Dunseith

Social workers. They are still out there.

They still walk Skid Row despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They still go to homes where children are in need. They still report to work at hospitals where patients die alone and families need to be located and told. It’s their job — their essential job — and they’re still doing it despite extraordinary circumstances that are making already difficult roles even more challenging.

“On a personal level, these social workers are making sacrifices of their own health, and potentially the health of their families, in order to continue to serve,” said Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare. “They know that they’re taking that risk, but they feel like it’s important to them. It’s their responsibility.”

Founded in 1947, the UCLA program is widely known and highly respected, particularly in California, where most of the 90 to 100 graduates each year go to work for city, county or state social services agencies.

Abrams, who is chair of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, knows this because she’s been talking to some of them, connecting with alumni of her program for Zoom calls to find out how they are doing.

What is it like for social workers right now?

Lavit Maas in her personal protective gear.

Lavit Maas, who graduated in 2010 with her master’s in social welfare, works for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Homeless Outreach and Mobility Engagement team, which provides care on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles for homeless people with severe mental illness. Maas works with people who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of elderly on Skid Row,” she told Abrams. “There’s a lot of people with medical conditions. It’s terrifying because we don’t know what to do [for them]. It makes me sad.”

Gabby Peraza, a 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, works with foster youth as part of her job with the county department of children and family services. Soon after the safer at home order was issued, she encountered a young girl who needed to be transferred to a new placement but was frightened by Peraza’s protective gear. The child cowered in fear, hiding behind a foster parent.

“I had to make the decision. I’m either going to have a kid crying with me — and forcing that kid into a car with me,” Peraza recalled. “I said, ‘All right, I’m going to take this mask off, take these gloves off, and just engage with this kid.’ ”

Abrams has been recording her video interviews, and they are being edited for privacy and clarity before being posted for educational purposes on a showcase page maintained by the Luskin School. [Or scroll to the bottom to view.] So far, eight interviews have been completed and three have been posted publicly. In all, Abrams expects to do at least eight, with interviewees who reflect the broad swath of roles in which social workers are employed.

The idea came to Abrams soon after she and her family moved inside to comply with the social distancing order that was issued March 19 in Los Angeles County.

“I felt very disconnected from what was happening out in the real world,” Abrams said.

A conversation about the impact that the coronavirus pandemic was having on a close friend in a medical career led Abrams to realize that few people were thinking about her former and current students in UCLA’s social welfare program. She knew they were being affected too, but how? So she reached out on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to talk.

“Social workers, they’re playing a vital role in this pandemic,” said Abrams, noting that they interact with people at the margins of society who are often overlooked by the general public and in media reports. “What’s happening out in the community, especially with really vulnerable populations like homeless folks or people in the jails or children in foster care?”

Abrams said she has learned a lot from the Zoom calls. For one thing, the feeling of personal safety varies from person to person and job to job. A social worker in a hospital, for example, said she had access to personal protective equipment and felt safe. But those who work for government agencies, however, said they were fearful about their level of protection from the novel coronavirus.

Many social workers said they are facing unexpected dilemmas, and “working in spaces in which their clients are not getting what they need,” Abrams said. For example, an alumna who works in a correctional facility observed that people being imprisoned there were not given proper access to soap and water so they could comply with orders to frequently wash their hands.

A surprise from her interviews was discovering that some facilities and social services are actually being underutilized at the moment. The number of cases being handled is less than usual for Peraza and for Madison Hayes, another 2019 master’s in social welfare graduate, who works in Sacramento at a shelter for foster youth. For both, the decline in cases mirrors a steep drop-off in calls to crisis hotlines and a lack of referrals from the mandatory reporters at public schools.

“We know that things like abuse and other family problems are probably increasing, but calls … are decreasing so dramatically,” Abrams said. “Child protection is basically falling apart because there’s no window to the outside world.”

Gabby Peraza was a student commencement speaker in 2019.

Talking to social workers in the field has also reminded Abrams of the inequities that always exist in society.

“Access to health care: What does that mean?” Abrams asked. “Access to even having a home, to being sheltered? I am seeing the racial disparities and seeing the ways that the haves and the have-nots have different levels of access at this time.”

The interviews have also reminded Abrams of one other important — and more hopeful — aspect of society. People keep doing their jobs despite the risks involved.

“We all knew coming into this career that there’s always going to be a risk,” Peraza told Abrams about what it’s like to be a social worker during this crisis. “We just didn’t think it was going to be this type of risk.”

Peraza said it’s not about herself, it’s about the children and the families she serves.

Maas acknowledged the risks to her own health and the fear of getting infected and passing the virus along to a colleague or loved one. But there is work to be done.

“I love being a social worker and, to me, service is the only thing that matters,” Maas said. “Of course, you can’t be of service if you can’t protect yourself. I know that. But, especially in a time like this, I have to be of service.

 

 

 

Residents in L.A.’s Latino Neighborhoods Less Likely to Receive Relief Funds Researchers from UCLA Luskin combine forces to recommend that local leaders fill gaps in COVID-19 stimulus funding

By Eliza Moreno

Fifty-six percent of Latino-majority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County have a high proportion of residents at high risk for not receiving individual relief funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, according to a UCLA report.

The paper was written by researchers from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

Its findings provide information that local and state officials can use to target resources and communications efforts in neighborhoods that are experiencing widespread economic distress. The CARES Act was passed by Congress in response to the economic disruptions associated with COVID-19; the measure includes payments to cover citizens’ basic needs.

“The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the cracks in our social safety net that often fail to catch those living in poverty, which disproportionately are people of color and immigrants,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Entire neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty, and a public health crisis is not the time to ignore their needs. We are only as healthy as our most vulnerable, and many communities in Los Angeles County will need targeted assistance.”

The Los Angeles neighborhoods where residents are least likely to receive a stimulus check are concentrated in downtown Los Angeles, including Westlake/MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Chinatown, Skid Row and Pico Union.

Those most at risk for not receiving relief funding tend to be lower income, people of color, and live primarily in renter neighborhoods. Immigrants also have an elevated risk, according to the report.

“The lack of support puts entire communities at risk here in Los Angeles County and requires immediate attention,” said Paul Ong, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Ong also is the founder of Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues, which provided services pro bono for the study.

The report recommends that state and local governments in the affected neighborhoods provide targeted support, including cash assistance and other social benefits, regardless of recipients’ citizenship status.

The report is the second analysis by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on underserved neighborhoods. A report published on April 1 examined economic vulnerability due to retail and service sector closures across Los Angeles County neighborhoods.

UCLA Researchers Lead Coronavirus Transportation Response Research projects related to the health crisis will be fast-tracked for funding by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and partners

By Claudia Bustamante

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies will fast-track funding for research projects related to COVID-19 and its effects on public health, the economy and transportation, with those submissions due by April 19 and funding to be dispersed by June.

As part of its research goals for the next fiscal year, UCLA ITS and sister institutes at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine pivoted priorities to investigate the effect of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 on transportation in the United States. This quick adjustment will allow researchers across the University of California system to collaborate and harness their collective expertise in transportation engineering, planning and policy.

Transportation and transit use have rapidly shifted in the country due to social distancing recommendations, shelter-in-place restrictions, quarantines and other mitigation efforts meant to slow the spread of the virus.

The collective UC Institute of Transportation Studies will prioritize research projects:

  • looking into the response to the public health emergency, including the mobility needs of essential workers and vital goods;
  • the capacity of both the private and public sectors to meet transportation needs during the crisis;
  • the substitution of technology-enabled access for mobility in response to movement limitations.

It will also fund projects focused on the recovery of transportation services and systems when this public health emergency ebbs, including coping with the backlog of goods and people movement.

Brian Taylor, chair of UC ITS, said the California Legislature and executive branches, as well as regional and local governments and agencies, have come to rely on the statewide institute’s expertise and assistance in times of need.

“We aim to produce research that meaningfully informs public officials in making critical, and sometimes difficult, decisions about California’s transportation systems,” he said. “Now more than ever, UC ITS is committed to supporting the state with data and research to help it respond to and recover from the effects of this terrible pandemic in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Taylor also serves as director of the UCLA branch and a professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Established by the California Legislature in 1947, UC ITS funds about 50 research projects a year that cover a wide variety of topics, including congestion management, performance evaluation for state transportation programs and policies, climate change mitigation strategies, micromobility like scooters and bike share, among others. Over the past 25 years, the four ITS branches collectively have formed one of the world’s preeminent university transportation research centers.

The institute’s annual research program will divvy up about $800,000 among projects tied to state-established priorities, including the COVID-19 response and other topics related to transportation and housing, transportation equity, innovative mobility, travel behavior, aviation, safety, and active transportation.

More information about the COVID-19 response and recovery solicitation is available here.

For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

Paving a Path to Homeownership Lewis Center hosts panel to contemplate ways that homeownership can be an attainable goal for more low-income families

By Lauren Hiller

Despite the promise of homeownership enshrined in the American Dream, many people in low-income communities of color remain far from owning their own homes, and this challenge served as a focal point for a recent discussion at UCLA Luskin.

During the Housing, Equity and Community Series event held on Feb. 26, the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Ziman Center brought together scholars and housing experts to discuss what it would take to ensure access to homeownership for communities historically locked out of it, particularly low-income families. The conversation was moderated by Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center and an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Rocio Sanchez-Moyano, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, opened the panel by providing context about homeownership in the United States.

According to U.S. Census statistics, homeownership rates have fallen below 50% in Los Angeles County, which is below the current 60% nationwide average and far below rates observed before the Great Recession. These rates are even lower for black and Latino households, and Sanchez-Moyano said this situation is compounded by predatory lending practices by banks that contribute to foreclosure rates in those communities that are among the highest.

Barriers to homeownership are particularly concerning given the benefits that homeownership can confer, Sanchez-Moyano said. These include greater household wealth, better neighborhood safety and quality, lower rates of perceived stress, and increased civic participation.

Discriminatory mortgage terms and higher income volatility among black and Latino households are among the reasons that these families are disproportionately shut out of homeownership opportunities, she said.

Ashraf Ibrahim, office director at the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), spoke about his experience helping families apply for mortgages. He explained that housing affordability is the largest hurdle faced by families seeking to secure financing to buy homes. A household needs an annual income of at least $125,000 to be able to afford a home in Los Angeles County, Ibrahim noted.

Housing costs are also not rising linearly, said Dorian Young, a mortgage counselor at NACA. As of January 2020, the median sales price of a home in Los Angeles was $744,000, according to Zillow — up from $474,000 as recently as 2015. Housing costs are quickly outpacing income growth in cities such as L.A.

Sanchez-Moyano said this problem is exacerbated by high rents, meaning that lower-income households have less spare income to save up for a down payment.

John Perfitt is executive director at Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, a nonprofit that builds and improves homes for low-income families. He said that land values are the largest determinant of housing costs. High land values produce high housing costs, which reductions in construction costs are unable to offset.

Despite these challenges, options exist to increase homeownership rates. Counselors can educate families on practical steps needed to save up for a home, Young said. As a mortgage counselor, he and others in his field also can inform households of other approaches to securing home financing, including leveraging future rent to be collected from multi-family properties as part of the loan process.

Perfitt said that Los Angeles offers a low-income and moderate-income homeownership program that provides down payment assistance. More people sign up every year than there is help to give, however.

Sanchez-Moyano reminded the audience that homeownership has never been attainable for all families. Still, she hopes people will support efforts to make owning a home more accessible, particularly to communities of color, and ensure that “being a renter doesn’t mean being left behind.”

View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr:

Promise and Peril: Homeownership in Southern California