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Alumni Award Honors Torres-Gil for Rigor, Creativity, Innovation

Professor Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, received the 2020 Florence G. Heller Alumni Award from his alma mater, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. The school honored Torres-Gil, an expert on health and long-term care, disability, entitlement reform and the politics of aging, for his multifaceted career spanning the academic, professional and policy arenas. The professor of social welfare and public policy has advised presidents from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama as well as state and local governments and agencies, and has conducted research around the world, particularly in Asia and Latin America. In one segment of a wide-ranging interview, Torres-Gil described his role as a young White House fellow summoned to the Situation Room to weigh in on the Carter Administration’s response to the flood of refugees fleeing Vietnam. “Many years later, I met individuals who were rescued in the late ’70s by the U.S. Navy. I take great pride that I had a direct role, in the right position at the right time, with the decision making,” he recalled. Torres-Gil, who earned his MSW and Ph.D. at the Heller School, said an invitation to attend the White House Conference on Aging in 1971 sparked a lifelong interest in gerontology and demographics, culminating in his most recent book, “The Politics of a Majority-Minority Nation: Aging, Diversity, and Immigration.” Torres-Gil is one of 15 recipients of the 2020 Heller Alumni Award, which honors individuals who have produced positive change through the rigor, creativity and innovation of their work.


The Cost of Excluding Undocumented Workers From Stimulus Funds

The federal government’s decision to exclude undocumented residents from the $1,200 stimulus payments given to taxpayers during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a loss of $10 billion in potential economic output, a UCLA study has found. It also cost 82,000 jobs nationally and 17,000 jobs in California, according to the study, a collaboration among UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics InitiativeNorth American Integration and Development Center and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Undocumented workers and their families contributed more than $1.6 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018 through shopping and workforce activities, and their reduced purchasing power amid a looming recession is both a public health and economic crisis, said Raul Hinojosa, an associate professor of Chicano studies and the report’s lead author. “It is cruel to deny undocumented residents financial assistance as unemployment rates skyrocket, but it’s also counterproductive fiscal policy that has negative consequences for all Americans who benefit from their economic contributions,” he said. The national unemployment rate for undocumented workers reached 29% in May, much higher than the rate for any other demographic group. The study found that the economic benefits of including undocumented workers in future relief efforts would outweigh the costs. The economic activity generated by undocumented immigrants spending the tax credits they would receive under the HEROES Act, currently being debated in Congress, would support 112,000 jobs nationally and produce $14 billion in economic output — which would far exceed the $9.5 billion price tag of including them in recovery efforts. — Eliza Moreno


Bass, Castro Join Dialogue on Black-Brown Coalition-Building

Black and Latino advocates and elected officials explored ways that communities of color can build coalitions to transform the nation’s social and political landscape during a webinar hosted by UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, spoke of the importance of finding common ground in an era when communities of color are bearing the brunt of COVID-19, police violence, joblessness, housing insecurity and disenfranchisement. “We have to never allow ourselves to be divided,” said Bass, who noted that Congress members of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent work in sync to craft a common agenda. Castro argued that real change requires lifting up the next generation of leaders. “What we need to do is be intentional about passing that baton on,” he said. Bass and Castro were joined by Genny Castillo of the Southern Economic Advancement Project and Jonathan Jayes-Green of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, who weighed in on barriers facing candidates of color. Politico reporter Laura Barrón-López moderated the July 22 dialogue. “What we’ve learned today is that Latinos have an important role to play in the Movement for Black Lives and really in protecting Black life,” LPPI Director Sonja Diaz said. “One thing is clear to me from this conversation. We can’t return to the old normal. And when we chart a path forward, especially in the streets and in chambers of power, we’ll only get stronger if we work together.”


Report Explores Temporary Settlement Options in Wake of Evictions

A final report in a three-part series on housing justice and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic has been released by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The report draws upon guidance from unhoused people, legal advocates and community-based researchers to strongly advise governments to sanction existing self-organized communities of unhoused people and maintain sanitation stations on-site. The authors also recommend that authorities cease the seizing of property from the unhoused and stop conducting sweeps that result in people’s displacement from public space. The report is offered as guidance for policymakers and organizers seeking to support insecurely housed and unhoused people during and after the pandemic. It was written by doctoral student Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Gary Blasi,  professor of law emeritus at the UCLA School of Law. The authors also cautiously recommend that local governments establish temporary settlements in which tents and tiny structures would offer private, socially distanced forms of emergency shelter.


Students Urged to Let Personal Mission Guide Career Choices

Marcia Choo

Marcia Choo shares advice during Career Services webinar.

Current students and recent graduates of UCLA Luskin tuned into Zoom to hear Wells Fargo Vice President of Community Development Marcia Choo discuss incorporating passion for equity and social justice in career decisions. After graduating from UCLA, Choo explored many different careers, building an eclectic resume while sticking to a common theme of community engagement and community service. She worked in race relations, conflict resolution, government and nonprofits before joining Wells Fargo Bank to pursue corporate philanthropy. Now in her sixth year at the bank, Choo channels resources to help underserved communities. “I hope my trajectory gives you some hope and encouragement that you shouldn’t limit yourself,” she said at the July 7 webinar hosted by UCLA Luskin Career Services. “You can write your own job description, you can create your own organization. The job you end up doing may not exist until you create it.” Choo explained how a part-time job while she was a UCLA undergraduate eventually transitioned into a full-time position, giving her workforce experience and a confidence boost. “Internships and fellowships are the best way to check out what you might want to do,” she noted. To current students, she offered this advice: Build your network, learn to be your own advocate, and start saving for retirement early. She encouraged students and graduates to consider their personal mission and purpose, what defines them, and make it their brand — and to imagine broader possibilities in the context of the changing world. “Don’t lose your humanity and purpose,” she said. — Zoe Day


Lens Leads Dialogue on Economic Empowerment in Black Communities

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, moderated the July 6 webinar “Buying Black: Reframing Urbanism and Economics,” a conversation with three experts on the intersection of consumer behavior, city planning and efforts to dismantle systemic racism. A virtual audience of more than 350 tuned in to hear the dialogue on the importance of generating economic opportunities within the Black community. Author and advocate Maggie Anderson, CEO of the Empowerment Experiment Foundation, challenged viewers to make a commitment to supporting Black-owned businesses, saying, “We cannot keep fighting against racism in the streets with our protests if we’re going to keep enabling racism in the stores with our purchases.” A Kouture, president of the International Black Restaurant and Hospitality Association, described her efforts to use data on Black commerce to win support from investors, developers and government agencies in metropolitan areas around the country. And Matthew Miller, a cultural geographer at the University of Pennsylvania, described his research into Black business corridors, including in South Los Angeles, which are “not just a place for job creation and wealth accumulation” but also “community anchors for people to confront marginalization both within the Black community and outside of it.” Said Lens, “We are at this amazing and painful moment of racial awakening. Everybody’s lining up to make statements and say nice things, but we have long gotten past the point at which specific, concrete actions need to be made.” The panelists planned to reconnect to plan further collaboration following the webinar, which can be viewed on demand or on Facebook.


Vacant Tourist Hotels Should Be Repurposed to House Homeless, Report Urges

A new UCLA report calls for the increased conversion of hotel rooms to provide shelter for thousands of people in Los Angeles who are predicted to lose their housing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report makes the case for an effort dubbed by the authors as (More) Hotels as Housing to repurpose tourist hotel and motel rooms that have become vacant during a downturn in global tourism that may extend for many years as a result of the health crisis. “We advocate shifting property use from hospitality to housing through the large-scale public acquisition of tourist hotels and motels,” write the report’s authors, who include Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law, and Professor Ananya Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The report urges public officials to act quickly to protect thousands of newly unemployed workers who will soon face eviction for unpaid rent and are likely to become homeless as a result. The authors note that Los Angeles has a long history of building luxury hotels for which developers have benefited from public subsidies and land assembly. “It is time to redirect public resources and public purpose tools such as eminent domain for low-income and extremely low-income housing, especially in Black and Brown communities where public investment has primarily taken the form of policing,” according to Blasi, Roy and their co-authors, writer and grassroots organizer Jonny Coleman and housing justice activist and researcher Elana Eden.

Wells Updates ‘Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing’

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the rapid evolution of green building practices and integrating those approaches into affordable housing may be more critical than ever, according to Walker Wells, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning lecturer. In “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing,” Wells and co-author Kimberly Vermeer, a Boston-based sustainability consultant, argue that the best way to meet health and climate challenges is by providing society’s most vulnerable people with housing stability while reducing the environmental, health and climate impacts of constructing and operating buildings. In this fully revised edition of a book first published in 2007, the authors provide guidance on innovative green building practices and green building certifications available for affordable housing. To help builders align design decisions with environment-friendly goals, the authors explain the integrated design process. They also detail best practices for green design, from water management to renewable energy. Acknowledging the complexity of financing green affordable housing projects, Wells and Vermeer also discuss funding sources and the latest financing strategies. New case studies span high-desert homeownership, supportive housing in the Southeast and net-zero family apartments on the coasts. “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing” seeks to provide information for everyone in the affordable housing industry, including housing development project managers, designers, engineers, funders and housing advocates. Wells is a principal at Raimi+Associates, a consulting service with offices in Los Angeles, Riverside and Berkeley, California. Vermeer founded and leads Urban Habitat Initiatives, a consulting practice that advances sustainability and climate resilience.

Grant Funds Research Into Heat-Resilient Streetscapes

When it comes to beating the Southern California heat, small-scale interventions can have a big impact. If you’ve ever waited for the bus on a hot summer day, you’ve felt how a shady tree or a covered bus shelter can help keep you cool. Despite these tangible benefits, few studies have focused on micro-scale, or street-level, interventions to reduce heat for pedestrians and transit riders. A new grant from the California Strategic Growth Council will fund a UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analysis of these micro-scale cooling strategies to mitigate heat at bus stops and other streetscapes. V. Kelly Turner, assistant professor of urban planning and associate director of the Center for Innovation, will lead the project, which aims to empower communities, particularly disadvantaged and heat-vulnerable communities, to cost-effectively design cooling solutions for pedestrians and transit riders. This focus on active transportation can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution while creating climate-resilient neighborhoods. Community-engaged research will center on four historically disadvantaged areas that are vulnerable to extreme heat Pacoima, Watts/South Los Angeles, Ontario/Inland Valley and Oasis/Coachella Valley. These communities represent a range of climate zones and built environment forms in Southern California. The project, part of the Center for Innovation’s large body of climate adaptation and resiliency research, will also leverage ongoing partnerships among UCLA, Kounkuey Design Initiative and the state’s Transformative Climate Communities program. — Michelle Einstein


Report Analyzes Asian American, Latino Votes in 2020 Primaries

Asian American and Latino voters in three key states — California, Virginia and Texas — had lower engagement in the 2020 primaries compared to four years before, according to a new analysis from the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, or UCLA LPPI. The report analyzed precinct-level data from 10 states in the Democratic primary’s early nominating contests through March 17, when former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, to ascertain the candidate preference of Latino and Asian American voters. The report also found:

  • Bernie Sanders did well with Latino voters in states like California, Iowa and Nevada where he had significant field operations and voter outreach.
  • Sanders won at higher rates in the high-density minority precincts he carried compared to Joe Biden.
  • Biden won the plurality of Latino votes in high-density Latino precincts in Virginia, Florida and some counties in Texas, demonstrating the malleability of the Latino vote, as well as the potential impact of voter outreach efforts at the local level.
  • In Los Angeles County and Orange County, fewer Californians in high-density Latino precincts cast ballots than in 2016. As advocacy for vote-by-mail grows amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these results highlight a need for robust education and outreach efforts surrounding election procedures.

“The time is now for campaigns to maximize the potential of America’s diverse electorate, and that starts with the Latino and Asian American vote,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director at UCLA LPPI.