Lens on Benefits of Affordable Housing

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the benefits of affordable housing following the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s announcement that it would repeal the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation. Implemented by the Obama administration, the provision required cities receiving federal housing aid to develop plans to address patterns of segregation or risk losing money. The new regulation under the Trump administration would allow local governments more latitude in deciding if their policies were racially discriminatory. Recent studies have found that affordable housing developments led to crime reductions in low-income areas and had no effect in higher-income neighborhoods. “The infinitesimal risk of increased crime as a result of increased ‘affordable’ or multifamily housing in U.S. suburbs is massively outweighed by the benefits to those actually housed, and other benefits of reducing concentrated poverty,” Lens said.

Lens and Phillips on the Housing Vacancy Rate in L.A.

Michael Lens and Shane Phillips of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies spoke to Curbed LA about the housing vacancy rate in Los Angeles amid talk of levying a tax on homes that stand empty. Phillips, the center’s housing initiative project manager, noted that Los Angeles “consistently ranks among the places with the lowest vacancy rates.” This creates a landlord’s market, with more competition for available homes and, therefore, higher rents, the article noted. Condo owners may leave property vacant to wait for a higher sales price, but renting out the unit would be a wiser investment, Phillips said. Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said it is difficult to determine whether owners are deliberately leaving units vacant. He added that focusing on the vacancy rate can distract from proven solutions to the affordable housing crisis, such as building more units and providing subsidies and tenant protections.


UCLA Luskin Day at L.A. City Hall Focuses on Housing

Alternative and affordable housing served as the topic of the 16th annual UCLA Luskin Day on Feb. 21 at Los Angeles City Hall. VC Powe, organizer and executive director of external programs and career services, said 15 students made the trip downtown to discuss this year’s pressing urban social policy issue with city and county leaders. During the day, co-sponsored by UCLA Government and Community Relations, graduate students from all three master’s programs met with Paul Koretz of Council District 5 and heard from Alisa Orduña, senior advisor on homelessness to Santa Monica’s city manager. The students also met with Luskin alumni and broke into teams to interview representatives of local leadership, business and nonprofit organizations that address affordable housing issues in Los Angeles. “The housing issue is definitely something that I came to the program to really try to work and understand a bit more,” said Gerrlyn Gacao, a first-year student studying urban planning. “For me, this experience is about learning first-hand from leaders that are working in the field and throughout the city.” As a first-year social welfare student, Ashley Farnan focuses on seniors. “I’m waking up to the reality of the rising rates of homelessness among seniors and the total lack of affordable housing. … I recognize that I need to be part of the policy conversation.” Associate Professor Paavo Monkkonen served as faculty advisor for the day and will work with students to provide a written memorandum on ways to fund homeless or permanent supportive housing based on the stakeholder interviews.

View more photos from the day on Flickr:

UCLA Luskin Day at LA City Hall 2020

Reinvigorating the Memory of Public Housing in Los Angeles

Public housing was once a project of hope and inspiration in Los Angeles, Judy Branfman said at a Feb. 12 book talk on “Public Los Angeles: A Private City’s Activist Futures,” co-hosted by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Branfman, co-editor of the book of essays by scholar Don Parson and colleagues, was joined on the panel by Greg Goldin, co-author of “Never Built Los Angeles,” and Elizabeth Blaney and Leonardo Vilchis, activists-in-residence with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Vilchis discussed the role public housing has played in the poor people’s movement in Los Angeles, in communities like Aliso Village, where mothers developed their own systems to mitigate crime without outside policing. Vilchis and Blaney co-founded Union de Vecinos, which arose from a movement in 1996 by residents of Pico Aliso public housing projects to oppose the demolition of their homes. In the book — which includes chapters from UCLA faculty and alumni Jackie Leavitt, Mike Davis, Sue Ruddick, Dana Cuff and Edward Soja — Branfman notes that thousands of public housing units were built across Los Angeles from 1939-1953. For proponents and residents, public housing was seen as an opportunity to house the vulnerable and initiate a project of interracial community among residents. While the mission to build a movement to reinvest in the public control of housing appears to be a politically arduous task now, Blaney said, “if we keep saying things are unrealistic, they’ll never become realistic.” — Lauren Hiller

View more photos from the book talk.

Lens on Eminent Domain and Affordable Housing

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to LAist about a Los Angeles City Council member’s proposal to create more affordable housing  by using eminent domain to take over an apartment building. The council may consider whether to seize a 124-unit affordable housing complex in Chinatown that was built under a covenant that guaranteed affordable housing for 30 years. The covenant, set to expire this year, allowed the owner to then legally raise rents to the market price.  Lens said that using eminent domain could potentially have a “chilling effect” on future affordable housing developments. “The developer entered into a 30-year covenant with the expectation that whomever owned the property at the end of that 30-year period would be free to do whatever made sense to that owner,” he said. “All financial decisions over that 30-year period have been made with that assumption.”


Councilman David Ryu on His Unconventional Political Journey

Los Angeles City Council member David Ryu spoke at UCLA Luskin about his journey to elected office and goals for reforming local government at a Jan. 27 Learn at Lunch gathering hosted by Public Policy. Ryu, who immigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea at age 6, said he took advantage of strong public schools — including UCLA, where he earned a bachelor’s in economics in 1999. As a young man, Ryu believed “government is something you protest, not work for” — until six years working with Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke showed him the power that local officials wield. “If there’s a problem and they have the will to do it, they actually have the power and the resources to get it done,” he said. “Holy cow, sign me up.” Ryu later became the first Korean American, and only the second Asian American, to serve on the City Council. At the Luskin School session, Ryu fielded questions about parking requirements, bus-only lanes, campaign finance reform and a universal basic income. Most of the conversation, however, centered on Los Angeles’ struggle to house its people. “It’s a humanitarian crisis,” Ryu said of the city’s 36,000 homeless people, as well as thousands more who can barely cover their rent. Ryu said he is pushing to amend Los Angeles’ “antiquated” city charter, which contributes to scattershot housing policies. Ryu, a member of UCLA Luskin’s Board of Advisors, was accompanied by his legislative and communications deputy, Jackie D’Almeida MPP ’19.

View more photos from the Learn at Lunch event on Flickr.

Visit by Councilman David Ryu


Storper on the ‘Deeply Flawed’ Senate Bill 50

Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, spoke to Politifact for an article on claims supporting and opposing controversial Senate Bill 50. The bill would require cities and counties to allow higher-density housing near job and transit centers. Proponents say it would ease the state’s affordable housing crisis; opponents say it would spur gentrification and overcrowd suburban neighborhoods. Storper said SB 50 is based on a “deeply flawed” analysis of what it would take to solve the state’s housing crisis. He said there is some truth to claims that SB 50 would create more luxury housing units. Existing zoning laws in California already permit millions of potential new housing units, but developers choose to build where they know they can make a profit, he said. Under SB 50, he said, developers would be inclined to target wealthy areas and “produce housing at price points that are only accessible to higher-income people.”


Land Is Finite, but Housing Is Not, Manville Says

Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to Architectural Digest about Apple’s announcement that it would invest $2.5 billion to address California’s housing crisis. The plan includes converting a 40-acre plot of land the company owns in San Jose into space for affordable housing. Manville said much of San Jose is reserved for detached single-family homes, “making for very inefficient use of valuable land.” Residents may be hesitant to change zoning rules because they like how their neighborhood looks or the fact that their house has tripled in value, Manville said. But he urged, “We must build up, so that the same plot of land of one home can accommodate many families. You know, the elevator also exists in Silicon Valley.” The alternative, he said, is a place that has the economy of a megacity and built environment of a suburb, “and that’s simply not sustainable.” Manville concluded, “Land is finite, but housing is not.”


Monkkonen Research Informs New Model for Affordable Housing

An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times juxtaposed a Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) plan to meet housing construction requirements with recommendations from Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to combat the affordable housing crisis in California with construction of 1.3 million new units of housing. The op-ed, written by the managing director of Abundant Housing L.A., accused the SCAG plan of “disproportionately dumping housing into the sprawling exurbs” while leaving wealthy cities with massive job pools alone. Critics say the SCAG plan will create a housing and jobs imbalance that will lengthen commutes and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Working with Monkkonen, Abundant Housing L.A. researchers built a different model for distributing housing requirements that minimizes sprawl, prioritizes accessibility to transit and creates affordable housing where people want to live and have opportunities to work, the op-ed said.

Yaroslavsky on Future of Single-Home Neighborhoods

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, was featured on an episode of 89.3 KPCC’s “AirTalk” about the future of California housing policy. The state’s affordable housing crisis has increased the pressure for bills like SB50, which would increase the density of housing in single-family neighborhoods close to transit lines. The bill was shelved in the last legislative session, but a second iteration is returning with provisions that Yaroslavsky called “very minimal and cosmetic.” The need for affordable housing is dire, he said, but “there hasn’t been a thorough discussion about what the SB50 bill does.” According to Yaroslavsky, “New construction in California is not going to produce affordable housing — it produces high-end housing, market-rate housing.” He criticized SB50 for failing to “demand anything in return from the landowners” and suggested setting aside 40 to 50 percent of new units for affordable housing. “If you rezone all the single-family homes in California, you’re not creating more affordable housing but you are destroying communities,” Yaroslavsky said.