Now or Never for Immigration Reform? Congressman from Texas opens LPPI webinar by expressing optimism that progress can be achieved with Democrats in power in Washington — if they act quickly

By Kassandra Hernandez and Les Dunseith

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas sees Democrats in power in Washington, D.C., and thinks the time may finally have arrived for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

“It’s not very often that Democrats have control of the presidency and both chambers of the Congress,” Castro said during a May 4 webinar hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “There’s a real opportunity here to pass comprehensive immigration reform and put 11 million undocumented folks — many of whom are ‘Dreamers’ or others, like their parents, who have been here for generations — on a path to citizenship.”

Castro, who introduced one of four immigration-related bills currently making their way through the political process in Washington, knows it won’t be easy, given the narrow Democratic majorities in both houses and longstanding GOP opposition to immigration reform that includes citizenship. Still, waiting too long could doom the effort.

As the 2022 midterm elections draw closer, elected officials will become “very cautious about the votes that they take,” Castro noted. “So, there’s got to be a lot of momentum and a big push to get immigration reform done this year.”

Castro’s comments came during a 10-minute live interview with webinar moderator Russell Contreras, a justice and race reporter at Axios, that set the tone for a panel discussion with scholars and political experts focusing on the challenges and opportunities for U.S. immigration reform.

During the interview, Castro spoke about why immigration policy reform is so important to him. He represents a district in the San Antonio area that is home to many Mexican Americans like himself.

“In our community, there’s an incredible sense of fairness, there’s obviously an incredible sense of family,” said Castro, whose mother is a renowned community activist and whose twin brother is former presidential candidate Julian Castro.

“There is a permanent class of conservative politicians … who want to use the immigration issue as a way to scare Americans and make them think that there is a lot of brown people who are going to come into the country and harm them,” Castro said. “But you see Mexican American communities being very favorable toward giving immigrants a path to citizenship because they understand that experience. To them, [an immigrant] was their parent or their grandparent. So, when they hear all of the fear-mongering, most of the time, they don’t buy into that.”

Castro said he hopes an umbrella bill that includes comprehensive immigration reform can be passed during this session of Congress, although it has not yet come to a vote. He noted that two other immigration bills have already made it through the House, however, and he urged the U.S. Senate to move forward with that legislation.

Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at UCLA who is an expert on immigration issues, argued that such piecemeal reform probably has a greater chance of success. Although the current social and political environment is unlike any in recent history, she said systemic barriers are likely to continue to impede sweeping immigration reform efforts.

Joining Menjívar on the virtual panel were Angélica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. All the speakers agreed that the national stance must recognize the complexities of the issue beyond border security and militarization.

Immigration reform is deeply interconnected with labor rights, access to education, health care and violence in other countries, they noted.

“You can legalize the people in the U.S., but if you don’t deal with the system that keeps us out and kicks us out, then you are not doing service to our community,” Salas said.

The so-called border crisis is actually a regional international policy problem, Selee said. “If you have lots of people coming in an irregular fashion, we need to rethink how we facilitate a legal path to immigration.”

Salas called for an urgent change in enforcement. “The detention system is a for-profit system,” she said. “Too many corporations [make] money off of the detention of our people.”

U.S. immigration policy also needs to account for the economic contributions made by the millions of undocumented workers throughout the country, Selee said.

Menjívar cautioned that immigrants should be recognized in a manner that avoids “reducing them to a dollar sign,” noting the many “social and cultural contributions [immigrants] have made to this country over decades.”

Selee pointed out that almost half of immigrants today have college degrees, representing potential talent that can help catalyze economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.

“Unlock that potential, [and] it would fit in really well in a moment where we are trying to recover economically,” he said.

View a recording of the webinar

 

Unpaid Utility Bills Are Disproportionately Piling Up in L.A. Study shows 25-30% of Angelenos have unpaid energy and water bills, with debts unevenly impacting people of color

A new report authored by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Center for Neighborhood Knowledge measures the extent of utility debt accumulation among customers served by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

Disparities in unpaid bills predate COVID-19 but have deepened since the pandemic’s outbreak. Using data from a November 2020 California State Water Resources Control Board survey, the researchers found one-quarter to one-third of all Los Angeles households faced financial difficulties paying for their utilities. 

“We didn’t expect the magnitude to be this big,” said Silvia R. González, co-author of the study and a senior researcher at the Luskin Center for Innovation. “For many families, this means choosing between keeping their lights on or skipping meals or medical treatment.”

The debt burden is unevenly distributed across Los Angeles — 64% of the population in severely affected neighborhoods are Latino. Black communities also face disproportionate debt, and racial disparities persist even after accounting for socioeconomic characteristics. Further, the study found that lower-income neighborhoods, residents with limited English proficiency and renters face unequal debt burdens. 

Early on in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended water and energy utility shut-offs, which has provided continued utility access for households in California. But accumulating debt has not been forgiven, and this crisis will need to be resolved once the suspension is lifted. 

Researchers said they hope to guide policymakers and utility operators in formulating targeted debt-relief programs, and calls for financial support from COVID-19-related aid to ensure that vulnerable Angelenos will still have access to water and energy after the pandemic.  

“We need an equitable relief plan,” González said. “These communities are already historically underserved areas and they’ve been left behind more broadly during the pandemic. These debts will be impossible for many families to repay.”

Serious Impacts of Coronavirus Felt Broadly Across Los Angeles County UCLA Luskin survey details effect of falling incomes, COVID-19 health issues and pandemic-related restrictions on Angelenos’ quality of life

By Les Dunseith

Residents of Los Angeles County have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, with significant numbers citing the pandemic’s adverse impact on their finances, health and children’s education, according to UCLA’s sixth annual Quality of Life Index.

“A year ago we speculated about how resilient our region would be in the year to follow,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who oversees the index. “We now know that Los Angeles County has demonstrated robust resilience, but a significant toll has been exacted on our residents by the tumultuous events. Many of our residents — especially younger ones — are anxious, angry and steadily losing hope about their future in Los Angeles.”

This year’s Quality of Life Index, or QLI, was based on interviews with 1,434 county residents over a 20-day period beginning on March 3, just as vaccinations were beginning to fuel optimism about a possible return to more normal life. Last year’s survey, conducted in the earliest stages of the pandemic, found high levels of anxiety about the possible impacts of COVID-19. Twelve months later, respondents said many of those fears had come to pass:

  • More than half of those surveyed (54%) reported that they or a close family member or friend had tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Forty percent said their income went down because of the pandemic, with 22% saying it dropped “a lot” and 18% reporting “some” decline. Roughly 1 in 5 (18%) said they had lost their job at some point during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Three-quarters of parents (76%) with school-age children felt their kids had been “substantially hurt, either academically or socially,” by pandemic-related distance learning and quarantine experiences.

In addition, nearly a fifth (17%) of all respondents reported that their income declined “a lot” in the past year and that they also suffered at least two specific negative impacts, such as a job loss, a wage or salary reduction, a decline in work hours or difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. This group was disproportionately composed of women under age 50, single people, renters, those without college degrees and those with household incomes of less than $60,000.

“These are among the most vulnerable individuals living in our county,” Yaroslavsky said.

The QLI, a joint project of the UCLA Luskin Los Angeles Initiative and The California Endowment with major funding provided by Meyer and Renee Luskin, asks a cross-section of Los Angeles County residents each year to rate their quality of life in nine categories and 40 subcategories. Full results of this year’s survey were made available April 19 as part of UCLA’s Luskin Summit, which is taking place virtually.

Mirroring last year’s result, this year’s overall quality-of-life rating held steady at 58 (on a scale of 10 to 100), which is slightly more positive than negative. But researchers noted that marked changes emerged among specific racial and ethnic groups, especially with younger residents.

Younger Angelenos: Sinking optimism, tempered by race

Reflecting a trend seen in recent QLI surveys, the county’s younger population — those between the ages of 18 and 49 — rated their quality of life lower than older residents, and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated that disparity.

“The varied manifestations of COVID-19,” Yaroslavsky said, “fell most heavily on the shoulders of younger county residents.”

In particular, researchers observed a growing belief by younger Angelenos that the cost of living in the region is threatening their ability to make ends meet, get ahead or gain some sort of financial security.Yet even among this demographic, the survey revealed a distinct divergence in views between Latinos and whites, the two largest racial/ethnic groups in the county. While they have faced demonstrably harder challenges in the region, Latino residents overall were more positive about their quality of life than whites — and this was particularly pronounced among younger residents.

“Repeatedly, younger Latinos are more positive about their own conditions and express greater approval and positivity toward the variety of public officials and governmental entities that affect their lives,” said Paul Maslin, a public opinion and polling expert with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research) who has overseen the QLI survey process since 2016. “Among younger white residents in Los Angeles County, a greater sense of frustration and even bitterness is apparent.”

The survey uncovered a number of noteworthy differences in these two groups’ views of the pandemic, public officials and the opportunities available in the region:

  • Younger white residents were evenly split over whether the handling of the pandemic had been fair or unfair to “people like them” (48% vs. 49%), whereas younger Latinos reported that it had been fair to them by a 2-to-1 margin (65% vs. 33%).
  • About two-thirds (68%) of younger whites believe the Los Angeles area is a place where the rich get richer and the average person can’t get ahead, compared with only 55% of younger Latinos.
  • Younger Latinos had more favorable views of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (57%) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (53%) than younger whites, 57% of whom had unfavorable views of Garcetti and 62% unfavorable views of Newsom.
  • Younger white residents rated the response to the pandemic — across all levels of government — much more harshly than younger Latinos. Only about a third of whites approved of the response of federal, state and county governments and local school districts. Latinos’ ratings of approval were at least 20 points higher for every level of government and for local school districts.
  • However, in terms of paying their rent, more younger Latinos (43%) reported falling behind than did young whites (31%).

The 2021 QLI: Resilience and change

While this year’s quality-of-life rating remained at 58 overall, reflecting a remarkable resilience among county residents, several significant shifts within the nine major categories that make up the survey tell a different story.

This was most noticeable in the education category, where the satisfaction rating of respondents with children in public schools dropped from 58 last year to 52 this year, one of the most dramatic one-year declines in any category in the QLI’s history.

Satisfaction ratings for public safety also fell over the past year, from 64 to 60, influenced significantly by a growing concern over violent crime. And respondents’ rating of the quality of their neighborhoods dropped from 71 to 68.

On the other hand, satisfaction with transportation and traffic rose from 53 to 56, which researchers attribute to a significant reduction in commuter traffic caused by pandemic-related workplace shutdowns.

With regard to the workplace, 57% of employed respondents said they currently work from home or split time between home and their place of work. As to the future, 77% said they would prefer a mix of working from home and their workplace when the pandemic ends, with just 16% wanting to “almost always work at home.”

The 2021 UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index is based on interviews with a random sample of residents conducted in both English and Spanish, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6%. The QLI was prepared in partnership with the public opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research).  The full reports for 2021 and previous years are posted online by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

Think the California Electorate Is a Liberal Monolith? Think Again UCLA report shows that voting on 2020 statewide ballot measures varied significantly across racial groups and regions

By Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas

It’s a widely held canard that California voters, and particularly people of color, are eager to throw their weight behind any progressive cause, but the reality is more nuanced and complex, say UCLA researchers who analyzed ballots cast by Latinos and Asian Americans on a variety of statewide propositions last November.

Their report, released today by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, offers a comprehensive look at how both race and geography influenced voter support for 2020 ballot measures dealing with affirmative action, rent control, employee protections for gig workers and other issues.

The researchers examined official ballot data from nine counties with large Asian American and Latino populations — Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Fresno, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego — and found that while voters in heavily Latino precincts often aligned with those in high-density Black areas, voting in heavily Asian American precincts closely mirrored majority-white precincts.

Significant differences emerged regionally as well, with voters in the Bay Area taking the most progressive stances and those in places like the Central Valley and Orange County staking out more conservative positions, regardless of race.

“The report challenges the idea that California is a solidly progressive state or that people of color will vote in monolithic ways,” said report co-author Natalie Masuoka, an associate professor of political science and Asian American studies. “Even in California, significant outreach is necessary from political campaigns that takes into account the diversity of opinions and experiences across the state, especially in instances where the ballot box is used to push for bold and significant change.”

Proposition 15, for example, the unsuccessful bid to increase taxes on commercial and industrial properties, was largely supported by voters in Black and Latino precincts across the state but opposed in high-density Asian American and white precincts. Support was strongest in the Bay Area among all the demographic groups analyzed and was lowest among white precincts in Southern California and the Central Valley, excluding Los Angeles County, the report shows.

The researchers found a similar interplay among racial and geographic factors in other high-profile ballot measures:

Proposition 16 aimed to reinstate affirmative action in government decisions, such as university admissions and procurement, but was defeated by about 57%.

  • Over 60% of voters in precincts with large Black populations and 54% in predominantly Latino precincts supported the measure, compared with only 46% in largely Asian American precincts and 44% in majority-white precincts.
  • Support was stronger in the Bay Area’s Latino and Asian American precincts than in Central and Southern California’s Latino and Asian American precincts.

Proposition 21, which was defeated by nearly 60%, sought to allow local governments to expand rent control protections.

  • Voters in predominantly Latino and Black precincts showed the strongest support across the state, averaging more than 50% in favor. In contrast, an average of 41% of voters in Asian American precincts and 36% in white precincts supported the measure.
  • While Bay Area voters favored the measure overall, there was a marked difference in support between Black and Latino precincts and Asian American and white precincts.

Proposition 22, approved by nearly 59% of the electorate, defined gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors, removing employee protections passed by the state Legislature.

  • The report found stronger regional than racial differences, with voters in Central and Southern California supporting the measure at higher rates than those in the Bay Area, regardless of race — an average of 61% vs. 47%.
  • Asian American precincts voted in support of the measure at higher average rates than Latino precincts — 57% vs. 52%.

The data show that the politics of California’s various regions can play an influential role in voters’ political preferences, whatever their racial or ethnic background. Similarly, well-financed campaigns — like Yes on Proposition 22, which broke state records for ballot measure funding — can level out differences among racial groups, the authors note. Going forward, they say, progressive campaigns would do well to consider these factors in their efforts to reach California’s diverse communities.

“California is often looked to as a national leader for progressive policy changes, and the state’s diversity is often cited as one of its strengths in making it possible,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “As we push for policy that leads with equity and fairness, the report shows a need to ensure that robust education and outreach makes the stakes and opportunities clear to help California voters make informed decisions.”

 

 

 

Envisioning a New Voting Rights Act for the 21st Century At UCLA conference, experts map out new federal protections after an election season marred by suppression and intimidation

By Mary Braswell

Voting rights experts from around the country gathered at a UCLA conference to brainstorm ways to protect Americans’ access to the ballot box, even as votes cast in the 2020 election continued to be challenged in court.

Elected officials on the front lines of the civil rights fight joined legal scholars, policy analysts, attorneys and advocates at the Dec. 8–9 virtual seminar. The event was hosted by the Voting Rights Project, a division of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

The seminar’s organizers intend to turn the attendees’ shared wisdom into a report to Congress that could help shape comprehensive national legislation to safeguard the right to vote.

Among the topics that guided the conversation: voter suppression and intimidation during this year’s election cycle and the Supreme Court’s 2013 rollback of core provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“This is what we get when we have elections without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act that stood and served well for more than 50 years,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “It has unleashed the floodgates for a lot of the voter suppression measures that we’ve seen in the last seven years and we saw in full display in the 2020 election.”

Texas Rep. Marc Veasey, who co-founded the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, said the country is witnessing “egregious stories that you would think we wouldn’t be seeing in modern-day America.”

In his state, he said, officials have attempted to require people registering to vote to first produce a birth certificate or passport. Another proposal, seen as an invitation to voter intimidation, would have permitted cellphone recordings of citizens casting their ballots as a way to document “fraud.”

“We’re revisiting a very dark time in U.S. history where people just absolutely have no regrets at all about rolling back the rights of people to be able to vote, particularly people of color,” he said.

For example, Padilla noted, during the Georgia primaries, the wait time to vote in Black neighborhoods averaged 51 minutes, compared with six minutes in white neighborhoods.

While some state and local jurisdictions are pushing for rules that chip away at the freedom to vote, others are lighting the way for federal reforms, the speakers stressed.

Padilla and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea spoke of changes in their states that have made it easier for citizens to register and vote — changes that were accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What made this cycle different is that the pandemic focused us to reexamine how people vote,” Gorbea said. “And in many of our states we adapted our democracy to provide easier and safer access to the ballot box, which meant that people could vote while still taking care of their health.”

The seminar included workshops that zeroed in on specific facets of the voting rights movement, including fair redistricting, equal access for low-income and minority communities, planning for the next public health crisis, and overcoming procedural hurdles that have blocked past efforts to bring change.

Panelists and participants in the audience weighed in on the strengths and omissions of legislation already in the pipeline, including HR1, the For the People Act, and HR4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Panelists represented several organizations with long histories of championing voting rights, including the ACLU, Campaign Legal Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The discussion took place amid persistent efforts by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election. Padilla said those efforts have been fueled by “baseless conspiracy theories that have been spewed that seek to question the legitimacy of votes cast by Black voters and Latino voters, among others.”

The seminar capped a hectic electoral season for the Voting Rights Project, whose members conducted research, wrote policy reports and appeared in court to battle efforts to disenfranchise voters.

Tye Rush, a UCLA political science doctoral student, said a reinvigorated Voting Rights Act for the 21st century would eliminate the need for piecemeal litigation of civil rights violations.

“We’re looking to get something in front of Congress that can be signed and that will protect against the onslaught of voting rights–related rollbacks that we’re seeing in this era,” said Rush, a research fellow at the Voting Rights Project.

A New Game Plan for Connecting With Latino Voters UCLA experts join dialogue on lessons from the 2020 election, pointing to the complexities of voting behavior in a growing sector

By Mary Braswell

The pivotal role that Latino voters played in this year’s battle for the White House provides a roadmap for engaging with the diverse and growing constituency in decades to come.

To chart the way, experts from UCLA and elsewhere are digging into data from the 2020 vote to find answers to questions still lingering after Election Day.

Which issues resonated with Latino voters from state to state, in urban and rural communities, and from different ethnicities and age groups? How did President-elect Joe Biden build a winning coalition — and why did President Donald Trump make unexpected gains among the Latino electorate?

A Nov. 24 panel hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program took aim at these questions, shining a light on the path ahead for both Democrats and Republicans.

“Latinos want to feed their families, they want security, they want a president who’s going to deal with this pandemic, and we saw that in our polling across the board,” Tom Perez,  chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the virtual audience.

But the panelists emphasized that the biggest takeaway from 2020 is that Latinos do not vote with a single mind.

‘The youth in our community is transforming our electorate, and so we need to reach out to them, get them engaged.’ — UCLA Professor Matt Barreto

“There are things that bind us together, but our politics are unique,” said Matt Barreto, a UCLA professor of political science and Chicano/a studies who advised the Biden campaign. “At the end of the day, Latinos want to be engaged, as Latinos but also as Americans.”

Finding ways for candidates to connect with this complex electorate is a top priority given its rapid growth — more than 16 million Latino votes were cast this year, compared to about 7.5 million in 2004, Barreto said. The trend will continue, he noted, saying that in Arizona alone, 175,000 U.S.-born Latino high school students just missed the chance to cast a ballot this year but will be eligible to vote in 2024 and beyond.

“The youth in our community is transforming our electorate, and so we need to reach out to them, get them engaged, let them feel heard and massively target voter registration campaigns,” said Barreto, who also serves as faculty co-director of LPPI, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One notable trend in 2020: Trump’s campaign message that the U.S. economy would be stronger under his watch hit home with both the white, non-college-educated males who formed his base as well as with U.S.-born Latino males under 40 — but “Latinas were not having any of this nonsense,” said Mike Madrid, former political director for the California GOP and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, which was launched by disaffected Republicans working to unseat the president.

“Trump had stronger numbers than anybody anticipated, and we’ve got to recognize that if we’re going to be honest about what’s happening in the community,” said Madrid, who remains a member of the Republican Party.

Broadcast journalist María Elena Salinas, the moderator, said that several other GOP analysts were invited to participate on the panel but declined.

Madrid said the conservative economic, foreign policy and moral platforms that originally drew him to the Republican Party have been replaced by “white identity grievance politics.”

“I believe that the majority party in the next 20 years will be the one that captures the economic aspirations of a multicultural middle class,” he said. “The Republican Party has a significant problem with that because they’re not interested in a multicultural anything. The Democratic Party, I think, really needs to refine some of their economic messages.”

That messaging was met with skepticism on rural stretches of the campaign trail, said panelist Rudy Soto, a Democrat who lost his recent bid to win a congressional seat in the red state of Idaho.

He recounted one conversation with a Latino father and son who asked, “ ‘Why are you pushing to give everything away for free?’…  That doesn’t represent what we are actually about,” Soto said.

“In rural America and much of suburban America, where Hispanic communities are at the forefront of growth,” Soto said. “We’re seeing a lot of struggles when it comes to the Democratic Party’s message connecting with people,” Soto said.

Perez predicted that the Biden administration would be quick to enact policies that benefit the Latino community, building support for the Democrats’ agenda.

As the record turnout in this year’s race showed, “Latinos are difference makers across the country,” helping to tip the scales in tight races from Arizona to Wisconsin to Georgia, he said.

During this election cycle, Democrats used sophisticated modeling tools to tailor messages to multiple Latino audiences, a strategy that has long been used to parse the white electorate.

“For the better part of the 21st century, campaigns have had efforts to micro-target and understand different segments of the white vote: suburban women, non-college-educated men, young, sort of hipster Portland types, whatever it is,” Barreto said.

The Biden campaign used the same technique — massive sampling and community-driven outreach — to zero in on issues important to diverse Latino segments, he said.

U.S.-born children of immigrants who are voting for the first time likely have different priorities than families rooted in their communities for several generations, he said. And voters with ties to Cuba, Venezuela, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico and elsewhere bring their own lenses to the American experience.

Democrats are now studying the lessons of 2020 to position themselves for future engagement with the Latino electorate, the panelists said. This includes building up the infrastructure to more aggressively combat misinformation, lobbying for fair maps in the next round of redistricting, and grooming Latino candidates for office up and down the ballot.

“Latinos, like other voters of color, cannot be taken for granted by either party, candidates or campaigns,” said LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz in remarks ending the webinar. “The campaigns that inspire Latino turnout will be rewarded with winning margins.”

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program launched a partnership to highlight the importance of the Latino vote in 2018, following the U.S. midterm elections. Read more.

View the video of this year’s LPPI-Aspen Institute panel.

Corporate Landlords Sought to Profit During Last Economic Crisis, Study Finds Residential property acquisitions by LLCs soared during the Great Recession in Los Angeles’ working-class communities of color

By Les Dunseith

A recently released research brief from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy draws fresh attention to the manner in which corporate entities have sought to benefit from an economic crisis by rapidly acquiring residential property in Los Angeles. 

The report builds on insights from several studies released during the COVID-19 pandemic by UCLA researchers that have found social and economic inequalities being reflected disproportionately in working-class communities of color. A significant percentage of residents in such communities face higher risk of unemployment, unsafe jobs, homelessness, and possible eviction and subsequent housing displacement. 

The report analyzes data on the Great Recession, finding that corporate control of residential property in many working-class communities with large Black and Latino populations expanded significantly in Los Angeles County between 2005 and 2015. The report also develops case studies that focus on different types of corporate landlords that have been active in Los Angeles in recent years and their varied strategies to profit from the acquisition of distressed residential properties.

The study seeks to examine the geography of racialized risk in Los Angeles by focusing on working-class communities of color with high rent burdens, grouping data from 20 at-risk ZIP codes into four regions: South Central Los Angeles, the Koreatown/Westlake area, the Hollywood/East Hollywood area, and a portion of the San Fernando Valley that includes Van Nuys and North Hollywood. 

Researchers focused on property acquisitions during the 10-year period in which the new owners are listed with the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor as limited liability companies, or LLCs. Residential unit acquisitions by such LLCs increased significantly in the four regions in the wake of the Great Recession, peaking in 2012. 

Referring to those acquisitions as “housing grabs,” the report finds that corporate control of residential property “is established and maintained through various strategies, including dominance in the single-family rental market, mass acquisition of foreclosed properties, destruction of rent-controlled housing, and running ‘eviction machines’ to displace tenants.”

“Who Profits From Crisis? Housing Grabs in Times of Recovery” is the title of the report issued Oct. 16 and written by Ananya Roy, director of the institute and a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography; tenants rights activist Terra Graziani MURP ’19; Pamela Stephens, a doctoral student in urban planning; and Joel Montano, MURP ’20.

“Housing grabs are enabled by policies of deliberate deregulation, which also extend to financial lenders and the banking industry,” the authors write in the report. “Rewarded through bailouts and government-sponsored securitizations after the Great Recession, these real-estate and financial actors continue to be enabled in their profit-making on crisis.”

The report argues that action by public officials is needed to protect rent-burdened tenants in communities vulnerable to housing grabs, especially amid the pandemic. “Otherwise, there will be mass displacement of an unprecedented scale.” 

A single property transaction can refer to the acquisition of a single-family home or an apartment building with several hundred units. The focus of the study was primarily on the number of units acquired through LLC transactions because the authors believe that figure best illustrates the scope of impact on a given community. During the period of study, data show a countywide increase in LLC transactions of 433% and a 121% increase in the number of units acquired. In 2015, for example, a total of 30,651 units were acquired through LLC transactions.

The four regions in the study have different housing stocks, the study notes, and thus a property sale in the San Fernando Valley, which has a higher share of single-family units, would likely have different meaning than would a sale in Koreatown/Westlake, which has significantly more high-unit apartment buildings. 

The largest number of unit acquisitions through LLC transactions in any ZIP code in any year of the period of study was 735, which took place in the 90005 ZIP code of Koreatown in 2012. The Koreatown/Westlake region also had a significant spike in 2015 when 665 units were acquired by LLCs in the 90006 ZIP code, which is Pico Union.

South Central Los Angeles had the greatest overall increase in unit acquisition, at 388%, during the study period. Unlike the other regions, South Central had a fairly steady increase in units acquired through LLC transactions between 2007 and 2010, with a sharp increase and peak in 2011. Acquisitions were on the downswing after 2011 until another increase in 2015. This region’s change in unit acquisitions was greatest by far in ZIP code 90016 (West Adams), rising 2,757%.

The average number of units acquired through LLC transactions increased 201% overall during the study period in the region of the San Fernando Valley that was studied. The highest number of units, 550, in that region changed hands in the 91601 ZIP code (North Hollywood) in 2009. 

The rise in units acquired in LLC transactions in the Hollywood/East Hollywood region was the least of the four at-risk regions studied, although still at 40% between 2005 and 2015. 

The study was released at a time when the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti were considering how to respond to a legal challenge from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to the city’s moratorium on renter evictions amid the pandemic. 

As director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Roy joined with Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge based at UCLA Luskin, in filing an amicus brief that argues against the landlord association’s effort to persuade a judge to issue a preliminary injunction that would suspend the moratorium on eviction for those renters who have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic.

“The proposed preliminary injunction threatens mass displacement in Los Angeles,” according to the amicus brief filed Oct. 9 in Los Angeles federal court. “Studies of COVID-19 impacts in Los Angeles show that most of this suffering will be concentrated in the city’s working-class communities of color, which are already bearing the burden of high infection and death rates.”

City leaders chose to fight back against the landlord association, and a U.S. District Court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 13, allowing Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium to remain in place.

4 Faculty Additions Join UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning Incoming academic experts focus on environmental, racial and health disparities in real and virtual environments — from social media to soil

By Stan Paul

Faculty hires in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning for the new academic year bring a wealth of new research and teaching, reinforcing the School’s commitment to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Assistant Professor Brian Keum has joined Social Welfare. His general research emphasizes the reduction of health and mental health disparities among marginalized identities and communities. In particular, Keum studies the impact of online racism – and online racial violence – on psychosocial outcomes and health disparities. Drawing on his clinical experience, he looks at mental health issues, offline attitudinal and behavioral changes, and risky health behaviors that include substance abuse. A second area of his research is Asian American mental health, as well as multicultural and social justice issues that relate to how mental health counseling is provided.

“As a scientist-practitioner, I am excited to teach both practice and research courses,” said Keum, who will be offering graduate instruction in advanced social work practice and applied statistics in social work.

Judith Perrigo, an infant and early childhood mental health specialist, is also an assistant professor of social welfare. Amid the unusual circumstances of this academic year, Perrigo looks forward to exploring innovative teaching methods while providing meaningful learning experiences in both foundational and advanced social welfare practice courses. This includes sharing some of her recent research on how parents of low socioeconomic status with children in grades 3 to 6 are coping with the unexpected educational demands during the pandemic.

“Our findings suggest that the closure of schools and stay-at-home orders initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing parental involvement challenges,“ Perrigo explained, noting that families of lower socioeconomic status were more negatively impacted because they “had fewer affordances to buffer the new stressors.”

Perrigo draws from her personal background as a Salvadoran immigrant and 15 years of applied clinical work with children and families to inform her scholarship. Specifically, her research focuses on the well-being of young children — birth to 5 years old — with emphasis on holistic and transdisciplinary prevention and early intervention initiatives with underserved, vulnerable and marginalized populations.

José Loya joins Urban Planning as an assistant professor after recently completing his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. At UCLA Luskin he will teach quantitative analysis in urban planning and a seminar on Latino urban issues in the spring.

“My research focuses on ethno-racial disparities in the mortgage market, before, during and after the Great Recession. More generally, I am interested in the barriers minorities face in the homeownership market,” said Loya, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

“I am excited to join UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and working and engaging our students in the community,” added Loya, who worked for several years in positions related to community development and affordable housing in South Florida. He then earned a master’s in statistics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve already moved to Los Angeles, so I’ll be here locally even if courses are online,” Loya said.

Kirsten Schwarz, who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences, started at UCLA by co-teaching policy analysis for environmental health science in the spring 2020 quarter.

“Virtually teaching my first class during a global pandemic and social uprising was not how I expected to kick off my career at UCLA,” Schwarz said. “But I was so impressed, and encouraged by, the flexibility, compassion and integrity that the students brought to the experience. It was certainly memorable.”

Schwarz is an urban ecologist working at the interface of environment, equity and health. Her research focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities and how their distribution impacts minoritized communities. She recently led an interdisciplinary team through a community-engaged green infrastructure design that integrated participatory design and place-based solutions to achieve desired ecosystem services.

“I’m interested in connecting those areas right between urban planning and environmental health sciences,” said Schwarz, whose work on lead-contaminated soils has helped document how bio-geophysical and social variables relate to the spatial patterning of lead in soils.

Most recently she received a transdisciplinary research acceleration grant from UCLA’s Office of Research and Creative Activities in conjunction with Jennifer Jay, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Their proposal, “Multimedia Assessment of Children’s Lead Exposure in Los Angeles,” will involve work with graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Schwarz also has expertise in science communication and in engaging communities in the co-production of science. She has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which named her a 2018-2019 Fellow in the Leshner Leadership Institute in the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. Prior to

joining UCLA, she was an associate professor of environmental science at Northern Kentucky University, where she directed the Ecological Stewardship Institute.

Several other faculty searches have been completed, with four additional faculty members set to join Social Welfare and Urban Planning in the coming year. Those new additions include Adam Millard-Ball, who will arrive in January as an associate professor of urban planning, coming from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Millard-Ball holds a doctorate from Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and was selected in the urban data science search. He studies environmental economics and transportation, “adding to our strengths in those fields,” said Dean Gary Segura in a memo announcing his appointment.

Mark Vestal, also starting in January, was selected as an assistant professor by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in a search on critical Black urbanism, Segura announced. A historian by training, Vestal’s work looks at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.

Fall 2021 newcomers will include Margaret “Maggie” Thomas in Social Welfare and Veronica Terriquez in Urban Planning.

Thomas is a scholar of family and child well-being and is completing her Ph.D. in social work at Boston University this year. She previously earned an MSW degree from the University of Illinois. Her work focuses on young children in families facing serious economic hardship, as well as children and youth from minority communities and with LGBTQ identities.

Terriquez has been jointly appointed to Urban Planning and UCLA’s Department of Chicano Studies where she will take on the leadership of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Terriquez, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA, returns to the Westwood campus from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is principally focused on youth and young adult social development, leadership and intergroup relations, and how they are affected by various public policies.

Bruins Play Key Roles in Report Calling for Sweeping Reforms in L.A. Dean Gary Segura and Luskin School students are among the many UCLA contributors to ambitious effort to reimagine life in the region from a racial justice perspective

By Les Dunseith

A new report that lays out a road map for the transformation of the Los Angeles region built on racial equity is rooted in research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The report’s co-authors are Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School, and Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute.

The paper, “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles,” was issued Sept. 9 and shared with a UCLA audience Sept. 15 at a virtual salon. At more than 250 pages, the report is a comprehensive examination of the hidden barriers to success that limited many of the city’s residents even before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated since the pandemic began.

A wide swath of the Bruin community contributed to the paper. Numerous faculty and staff members provided new research, offered historical context and analyzed existing data. UCLA alumni serve on the Committee for Greater LA, which developed the report. And a handful of current UCLA students conducted research that fed the recommendations.

 

Those students, Antonio Elizondo, Dan Flynn, Mariesa Samba and Ellen Schwartz, share a passion for building a new Los Angeles grounded in social justice and racial equity.

Flynn, a second-year graduate student, contributed to the report’s sections on health and homelessness. His experience working with nonprofit agencies has made him acutely aware of the need to think differently about the region’s homelessness crisis.

“You’re looking at 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles at any given point,” Flynn said. “There’s no way to look at that issue and describe it as anything other than a failure — and a catastrophic one, with immense human cost. There has been a failure to build systems of accountability and to hold people responsible and accountable.”

Setting forth a strategy to create accountability to end homelessness is among 10 guiding principles (PDF) that underlie the report, which also tackles economic justice, mental and physical health, child and family well-being and other topics.

Samba is pursuing a master’s in social welfare and is a graduate student researcher at the Black Policy Project at UCLA. She contributed to sections of the report that related to children, families, mental health and justice.

“A lot of the work that I do is within the community with folks who are directly impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Especially with this project, my top-line goal was to uplift those voices and experiences into the research.”

The report builds on the personal insights of the researchers and the people they interviewed to identify social problems, pairing those lived experiences with data to point toward solutions. For example, research findings about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education highlighted the region’s racial disparities. Under Los Angeles’ safer-at-home orders, Black and Latino schoolchildren have been far less likely to be able to engage successfully in remote learning because of a lack of computers and access to high-speed internet connections.

As Segura noted during a Sept. 9 webinar to unveil the report to the general public, public officials are expected to ensure that residents have access to electricity, trash collection and a sewer system — so why not something as vital as the internet?

“The time has come for us to think about the internet as what it has become,” he said. “It is a civil right.”

The opportunity to think about such issues in new ways appealed to the UCLA Luskin students who played a role. Plus, there were practical benefits. For example, Schwartz was happy to work on the transportation section of the report because that’s her area of concentration as an urban planning master’s student. But her biggest takeaway from the experience was the mindset of the project’s leaders.

“What I loved seeing is how the community leaders on the committee really focused on empowerment. That’s something that I want to take with me into my own career,” she said.

“… work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

—Antonio Elizondo

Elizondo, a master’s student in urban planning, said during the virtual salon that the most impactful aspect of his involvement in the project came during his review of interviews with people impacted by the health crisis and thinking about the repercussions.

“At the moment, it’s an unfolding crisis, so every policy response is a short-term response,” Elizondo said. “This project helped me realize that there will be long-term effects, and how much work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

The Committee for Greater LA comprises a diverse group of civic and community leaders and a joint research team from UCLA Luskin and the USC Equity Research Institute. Initially, the committee intended primarily to address the racial disparities exposed by the pandemic, but in the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Black people and the nationwide protests that followed, its focus expanded to encompass a broader understanding of systemic racism.

The UCLA students helped Segura with the policy-related aspects of the report, which cover issues like housing affordability, immigrant rights, alternatives to incarceration, transportation and equitable access to health care, among others. Because of the pandemic, the work had to be coordinated via phone, email and Zoom sessions.

Flynn, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy, said he appreciated the chance to work directly with the dean on a project of such ambition and scope.

“What makes UCLA such a special place is that you have world-class academics and practitioners who are not just interested in generating work but are interested in mentorship and teaching and in giving opportunities to the next generation of policymakers,” he said.

As gratifying as the work was, the students realize the real work is still to come. Schwartz said she’s hopeful that society is ready to adopt the meaningful change advocated in the report.

“We live in a world where people are really isolated and don’t always know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “I hope that this report will just shed some light on issues that people are facing and that it will inspire elected officials to take action and make real, lasting changes to the system.”

Samba said her participation offered a unique opportunity to process her emotions about the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly because of how it coincided with the growing racial justice movement — and she sees cause for hope.

“We’re at a point in time where we are trying new things,” Samba said. “We’re able to experiment with our justice system, with our foster care system, with what social services look like, with what community care looks like. I would like to see some of those social experiments — some of those new ideas and visions — become real, and for us not to revert to the status quo. I would love to see us really, actually reimagine what a more racially equitable future looks like for the people of Los Angeles.”

Among the other UCLA connections to the effort: The Committee for Greater LA is chaired by Miguel Santana, a member of the Luskin School’s advisory board, and the project is funded in part by philanthropists who have also supported UCLA.

The Committee for Greater LA has invited interested parties, including policymakers and candidates for elected office, to join in making the #NoGoingBackLA promise, a commitment to build a more equitable and inclusive Los Angeles. Sign up at nogoingback.la.

Brown Bag Talks With Latino Leaders Show Students ‘Where Purpose Meets Passion’ Summer sessions focus on the importance of choosing career paths that make an impact

On Aug. 26, Paul Luna of HELIOS Foundation wrapped up a summer series of brown bag talks that provided guidance to the undergraduate and graduate fellows of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

The sessions, which took place over Zoom this year, continued a tradition in which community leaders connect with the policy initiative’s students to discuss career paths and the importance of making an impact.

“I learned that career trajectories are not often a linear progression but instead a culmination of unexpected turns where purpose meets passion,” said policy fellow Diana Garcia, who is studying for her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The brown bag series “allowed me to expose myself to the plethora of career paths available, which will allow me to give back to my Latino community,” said policy fellow Bryanna Ruiz, a political science and Chicana and Chicano Studies major at UCLA.

Each conversation ended with the same question. Here’s that question and how some of the summer speakers chose to answer:

Q: The fellows are an essential part of UCLA LPPI’s strategy to invest in leaders dedicated to making an impact. Returning to the normalcy we remember is no longer an option. We must reimagine a world that centers the needs of the most vulnerable communities and advocates opportunity for all. In a time that asks that we invest in new leadership, what does leadership look like amid COVID-19 and in a world after COVID-19?

Luis Perez, legal services director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA): We’re not talking about helping out individuals anymore, but systemic change. That’s the framing that people need to start adopting. Helping one person at a time has not changed the systems of oppression that we experience. This is the right time to start reframing the model of systemic change. Systemic change, in many ways, reflects policy change. The Supreme Court looks to society’s expectations of one another as much as they are looking into laws. Laws need to reflect what people think, and they change with society. What are the ways in which we can change the system?

Francela Chi de Chinchilla, vice president of partnerships at Equis Labs: There has been a reframing on what work can be and what to value because of this pandemic. There is a lot of writing already on what leadership in a workplace should look like because of COVID-19. I am grateful that the companies I have worked for have recognized the importance of valuing the whole person and work-life balance, but now I have a baby and I can’t work all day long. I have to stop working and take care of her. This time has allowed me to be more patient and forgiving with myself.

Noerena Limón, senior vice president of public policy and industry relations at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: The bolder you are, the farther you’ll get. This is the time where you form coalitions. I have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me and housing experts to forge some of the best coalition work that I have ever seen happen, because we don’t have to travel to meetings, we are constantly checking in with each other, constantly giving each other the latest information. I would say that we need to ensure that we are working in coalitions and to be bold.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF: The good news is that there are multiple examples of excellent leadership happening on the ground. I have seen it in a lot of my criminal justice work with LatinoJustice. I have seen people of all age groups create intersectional conversation about the systems. I see incredible promise about immigration enforcement and criminal justice enforcement in the same breath. I encourage it. I promote it. I have a lot of hope because I have always been an optimistic person. I am not going to let the same barriers that challenged who I was when I was young, when I was picked up for no reason by police, challenge my identity. I refuse to let all of those obstacles get in the way of: I know exactly why I’m here. I’m here to help gente. My optimism extends to today. My optimism took a hit with the outrageousness of body after body being killed on tape. But then again, I talk to people, listen to people and promote people that have better ways of analyzing and connecting with others than I do. They give me a lot of hope. Keep doing what you’re doing. Be honest with yourself about your hard work.

Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of HELIOS Foundation: A great leader has a vision for the future and brings a new or clearer vision or understanding, especially during a time when we need one. In times of change and in times that we are living through today, we look to our leaders to bring that vision, to provide that guidance and, with their knowledge and understanding, to help us make the right decisions. Secondly, a great leader understands the present. We cannot have decisions that are being made for political reasons, and not for the general welfare and health for our community and citizens — especially during this pandemic when we know that communities of color and low-income communities are more directly impacted. Thirdly, a great leader has an appreciation for the history and the past and can acknowledge who came before them. For any leader to think that they are uniquely in the position to lead because of who and what they are or how uniquely bright and talented they are — and don’t appreciate that there are people who came before them and who paid dues and made sacrifices so that they can have the opportunity to lead — if they don’t appreciate that, they will never truly be able to lead successfully and into the future. Honor the past and those who came before you, acknowledge their contributions. I would not have gotten to Stanford University if my dad was not willing to work at a copper mine for 45 years. Leadership will look different than it did before, and the people who are given the opportunity to lead will hopefully involve more women and people of color and from different backgrounds. You all reflect and represent the great future.