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Yaroslavsky Calls SB 50 an Overreach

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA and former LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to NBC 4 about the implications presented by Senate Bill 50. The bill would allow cities to rezone along transit lines in order to increase the amount of high-density housing in California. Yaroslavsky said this would be an overreach without a middle ground. Many single-family neighborhoods would be rezoned to develop multifamily housing because SB 50 extends to virtually every bus line in L.A. County, he said. As the bill currently stands, it exempts small, affluent cities. “Don’t exempt the affluent cities. Treat everybody the same,” Yaroslavsky said.


 

Blueprint editor Jim Newton, left, with panelists Vinit Mukhija, Christina Miller and Phil Ansell. Photo by Les Dunseith

A Moral Imperative to Combat Homelessness A dialogue on 'the most pressing problem in this region' draws in civic leaders, scholars and citizens

By Mary Braswell

Ending homelessness is a stated priority for legislators and policymakers up and down the state.

But it’s also a moral imperative for every citizen, one that will “define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Homelessness is the most pressing problem in this region,” he said to open a wide-ranging dialogue hosted April 30 by UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Mere steps away from the dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find Angelenos — our brothers and our sisters — in utter squalor.”

Blueprint is a civic affairs publication of the UCLA chancellor’s office and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event drew about 100 people to Cross Campus, a co-working venue in downtown Los Angeles.

Joining the conversation were public officials and scholars on the front lines of the region’s fight against housing insecurity: Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative; Christina Miller, deputy mayor for the city of Los Angeles’ homeless programs; and Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. Mukhija’s research focuses on substandard housing in the United States and abroad, and it was featured in the latest issue of Blueprint. Editor-in-chief Jim Newton, a UCLA Luskin lecturer in public policy, moderated the panel.

Stark numbers framed the conversation: “We have 52,000 people on any given night experiencing homelessness in the county,” Miller said.

To ensure housing security for all who need it, 560,000 affordable units must be built, Ansell added.

The discussion made clear that homelessness takes many forms. The chronically homeless may spend years on the street. Others find shelter in their cars or dwell in makeshift or substandard living conditions. Many drift in and out of homelessness due to precarious incomes and high rents.

Each of these populations requires a different response. And all of the proposed solutions require not just money, but time.

Miller said 10,000 “permanent supportive housing” units will be built over 10 years thanks to Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion city bond measure passed by voters in 2016. These units are designed for people suffering chronic disabilities — a small subset of those in need.

For short-term assistance such as temporary rent subsidies and job training, both the city and county offer rapid rehousing programs.

“People haven’t always connected the fact that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis,” Miller said. “We see our system get better at lifting people up once they become homeless and getting them back into housing as quickly as we can, but we’re not seeing progress because the tide is too strong.”

Mukhija advocated for interim steps to provide safe living conditions while more permanent solutions make their way through the system.

“I love hearing all the numbers about 10,000 permanent supportive houses, and I think that’s the kind of thing that gets people galvanized to vote for a proposition and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But I would like to see storage for the homeless. I’d like to see more toilets. … I would like to see money targeted for improving existing accessory dwelling units,” such as garages that can be converted into shelter.

Ansell spoke about the county’s expanding Safe Parking L.A. program, which will soon be the largest of its kind in the nation.

“Safe parking means a parking lot where a person who lives in their car, van or RV can sleep safely at night, where there is security and they won’t be bothered, and there’s [an outdoor toilet] or other restroom facility, and hand washing,” Ansell said. “I think that’s a very important and promising strategy, particularly in a community where over half of our unsheltered homeless population is living in vehicles.”

Another county resource is la-hop.org, the county’s homeless outreach portal. “Anyone in Los Angeles County — a resident, a first responder, a city employee, a business, a faith organization — can use it 24 hours a day” to reach one of nearly 800 full-time outreach workers, Ansell said. A homeless person who needs immediate assistance should find a phone and dial 211.

The county’s homeless initiative was bolstered by the 2017 passage of Measure H, a sales tax expected to raise more than $350 million a year to combat homelessness. However, Ansell said, “This is not a crisis that the county can effectively address on its own.”

Citing support from government, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and faith organizations, Ansell said, “We have hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who are involved on a full-time basis as part of this movement, and hundreds of thousands of other Los Angeles County residents who care very deeply about bringing their homeless neighbors home.”

“Housing and the Homeless: A Crisis of Policy and Conscience” is the theme of Blueprint’s latest issue, funded by a grant from Wells Fargo Bank.

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Blueprint Panel: Homelessness

Man standing in unfinished garage

Garage Conversions Could Ease California Housing Crisis

Three UCLA Luskin-affiliated urban planning scholars co-authored a CityLab piece on single-car garage conversions as a way to ease the California housing crisis. The authors — Urban Planning Chair and Professor Vinit Mukhija, Distinguished Research Professor Donald Shoup and Anne Brown MURP ’14 Ph.D. ’18, an assistant professor of planning and policy at the University of Oregon — argued that homeowners should convert their garages into an apartment or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to create more affordable housing in California. “Garage apartments create horizontal, distributed and almost invisible density, instead of vertical, concentrated and obvious density,” they argued. These units not only create more affordable housing but provide new avenues of income for homeowners and more secure neighborhoods, they wrote. “America can reduce the homelessness problem with a simple acknowledgment: Garages would be much more valuable for people than for cars,” the authors concluded.


 

‘Affordable Housing Development Isn’t Rocket Science,’ Ling Declares

Urban Planning lecturer Joan Ling shared her expertise in housing development with the first class of the Howard and Irene Levine Affordable Housing Development Program, featured in the Blau Journal and the Architect’s Newspaper. The UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate hosted the training program for entry-level professionals to illuminate the constraints and opportunities of housing development in Los Angeles. The training was led by Ling, co-director of the Levine program, and other UCLA faculty and housing experts. On the first day of training, Ling declared, “Affordable housing development isn’t rocket science. It needs two things, land and money. Since there isn’t enough land, it’s land-use policy that needs expanding.” The success of the program in its first year has led the Ziman Center to increase the class size for 2019 and make it an annual program, the first of its kind among top U.S. universities.


Lens on Housing Reform in Minneapolis

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the New York Times about Minneapolis’ decision to end single-family zoning. The city acknowledged its role in perpetuating housing inequity, he said, adding, “I think that’s great. ‘Minnesota nice’ in action.” Lens, associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, said the step was necessary but unusual. It could take a while to know if changes to single-family neighborhoods are successful, he said, but added that the best measure of change may be no noticeable change at all. Lens predicted that residents will look around their neighborhood and think, “This has been a good thing. This is still a great place to live.”


 

Ling Speaks Out on California Housing Policies

Lecturer in Urban Planning Joan Ling was cited in Capital & Main on California state policies regarding housing. At a state Senate hearing in mid-November, Ling said that local governments have had years to address the housing crisis but have squandered their chances under current rules. Local governments do not always know what is best, she said, pointing to 40 years of “not zoning enough to provide housing for our population at the local level.” Ling said she believes that a new bill that provides housing near transit hubs while also protecting vulnerable communities is possible. “We need to craft policies that do no harm, particularly to low-income and minority communities who have borne the side effects of well-intentioned policies,” she said.


 

Mukhija Comments on Program to House Homeless in Backyards

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija commented in a New York Times story about a program to offer homeowners incentives to house the homeless in their backyards. Pilot programs in the city and county of Los Angeles offer subsidies for the construction of so-called granny flats that would be rented for a set number of years to those in need of shelter. The programs are seen as a creative, if limited, way to address the affordable housing crisis, which Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called “the biggest humanitarian crisis in this city.” “In the total picture of homelessness, we know this will not necessarily change that much,” Mukhija said. “The value goes beyond that, though, because it is finally somewhat of a departure of the purity of single-family housing in the region. It’s a good step to change what people here really consider a dogma of private housing.”


Yaroslavsky Weighs In on the Ballot Battle Over Rent Control

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, shared his expertise on housing policy with several media outlets covering the November 2018 ballot measure that would give California cities more power to curb rising rents. “The state doesn’t do anything for renters. It does everything for property owners and developers,” Yaroslavsky told the Christian Science Monitor. “If we keep this up for another generation, we’re going to have far more homelessness than we do now.” The Monitor’s article on the fight over Proposition 10 cited the Los Angeles Initiative’s 2018 Quality of Life Index, which found that more than a quarter of L.A. County’s 10.1 million residents had worried about losing their home in the previous year. “These are the people who are a lost job or eviction notice away from winding up on the streets,” Yaroslavsky said.  The Monitor also cited a UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy working paper on the historical roots of the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Yaroslavsky has also been quoted in Proposition 10 coverage from Bloomberg News, the Guardian and Curbed LA.


 

Ong Comments on Temporary L.A. County Rent Stabilization Measure

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was quoted in recent news stories on a proposed temporary measure by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — approved in September 2018 — that would cap rent increases in unincorporated county areas. A Los Angeles Times story cited research by Ong that indicated no significant difference in rental housing in cities that have adopted some form of rent control as compared with the rest of the county. “The short-term solution is protecting those who are most vulnerable,” said Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies. “It needs to be complemented in the long term by strategic planning about increasing the supply of affordable housing.” Ong also spoke to LAist for a story on the proposal. “What we’re seeing is rents are increasing faster than inflation, and faster than people’s incomes,” he said. “We have reached a point now where many households are unable to pay their rents. … They quite often have to decide between paying the rent and paying for other daily necessities.”


 

Michael Lens, associate faculty director for the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, at the Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment. Photos by Stan Paul

The Rent is Too Damn High: A Forum on L.A.’s Housing Crisis Skyrocketing costs and politics of supply are focus of UCLA Lewis Center’s 11th annual Downtown Los Angeles Forum

By Stan Paul

“Too Much and Not Enough” is a recipe for a crisis when it comes to rising rents and lack of available and affordable housing in Los Angeles County.

It also was an apt title of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies’ 11th annual Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment, held May 18, 2018, at the California Endowment.

“The short story is the rent has been getting ‘too damn high’ for decades, and renter wages have not kept up,” said moderator Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In the last few years, a threshold has been crossed as “more and more households cannot really bear the rising costs of rent,” Lens said, launching a day of debate and discussion on a nationwide problem that is acutely felt in the L.A. region, which is also beset by chronic homelessness.

Experts representing academia, government and nonprofit organizations, as well as community stakeholders, came together to discuss problems, barriers and solutions to the multifaceted issue of affordable housing.

“Research is pretty unequivocal that increasing housing supply is necessary to stabilize prices,” Lens said, but there is less certainty about what happens in neighborhoods that receive new housing supply or investment. “Neighborhood dynamics certainly complicate any of our policy options or choices and solutions for increasing housing affordability,” said Lens, who also serves as associate faculty director for the Lewis Center.

‘If we want to stem the pipeline of people moving onto our streets, we have to come up with solutions that keep people in place, and that’s a moral issue, it’s a humanitarian issue, and it doesn’t rest with individual owners, it rests with all of us.’

— Panelist Jacqueline Waggoner

Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of public policy and urban planning at UCLA, led the first panel of speakers, who looked at the causes and effects of the crisis from a variety of perspectives.

Panelists included Isela Gracian, president of the East LA Community Corporation; Robin Hughes, president and CEO of Abode Communities; Shane Phillips, director of public policy at the Central City Association; and Carolina Reid, assistant professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley.

“We can’t build affordable housing fast enough to meet the need,” said Reid, adding that “we don’t have a system where we can hold cities accountable for how much housing they’re producing to meet growing housing demand.”

Since 2000, half of L.A. neighborhoods built no housing at all, according to Reid. Citing gentrification pressures at the urban core, she said neighborhoods with the best transit access are building the fewest affordable housing units.

“Planning isn’t helping,” she added, noting that California cities continue to include minimum lot sizes and restrictive zoning. Compounding the problem are lengthy permitting and regulatory requirements along with strong public opposition to some affordable housing projects.

A second panel, led by Lens, addressed the politics of supply and evaluated possible solutions. Panelists were Becky Dennison, executive director of Venice Community Housing; Jackelyn Hwang, assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University; Jacqueline Waggoner, vice president and Southern California market leader for Enterprise Community Foundation; and Ben Winter, housing policy specialist with the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Hwang weighed the pros and cons of rent control. She cited research showing that landlords do take advantage of “perverse incentives,” such as converting units to condos to become exempt from rent control — and consequently decreasing rental housing supply. But rent control also protects tenants, she said, noting that it encourages longer-term and elderly residents to stay in place, protecting them from displacement.

“I think the takeaway from the study is it puts too much power in the hands of landlords,” she said.  “I think there are ways to have rent control and maybe we can think of more creative ways on how it’s implemented.”

Waggoner is a proponent of rent control but said the strategy should be regional and not just within the city. “If we want to stem the pipeline of people moving onto our streets, we have to come up with solutions that keep people in place, and that’s a moral issue, it’s a humanitarian issue, and it doesn’t rest with individual owners, it rests with all of us,” she said.

Keynote speaker Kathy Nyland made her point succinctly: “Put people first, share the power, and let people be part of the solution.”

As director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, Nyland oversaw the overhaul of the neighborhood council system to emphasize inclusive outreach, equity and community engagement. She said she has looked at affordable housing from several vantage points, having also served as chief of staff to a Seattle City Council member and as a senior policy advisor to the city’s mayor.

Audience members had the opportunity to join the discussion, during the panels and at a reception that followed the conference.One of them was Tham Nguyen, a 2005 alumna of the Luskin Urban Planning master’s program, who is now a senior manager in transportation planning for LA Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation.

“It’s certainly a very important component of transportation, looking at the housing and land use aspect,” Nguyen said. “This is a really great learning experience to see the conversations that are happening and unfolding around affordable housing.”

Brian Taylor, professor of urban planning and outgoing director of the Lewis Center, closed the conference with this observation: “I thought transportation planning was complicated, but you’ve got me humbled here.”

Taylor, who also serves as director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, said he often hears comments that emphasize both connections and contradictions in transportation: “Traffic is terrible. We have to stop development. Let’s build a lot of rail and have transit-oriented development, but we’re really worried about gentrification.”

While the “enormously complex” affordable housing crisis has been manifested over years and solutions may be slow in coming, “that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing,” he said. “But what it does mean is that the person that has been displaced today is not going to benefit from that immediately. …

“These problems are visceral and they’re current, and the needs to address them are immediate and pressing,” he said, adding that bridging the gap between slow market changes and urgent needs on the streets of L.A. “is really going to be the challenge as we move forward.”

View additional photos from the conference on Flickr:

DTLA 2018

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