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.”
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.
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.”
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:
By Stan Paul
Just how complex the problem of homelessness is in Los Angeles — and how to combat it — was the focus of a daylong program that brought students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs together with community leaders and providers of homeless services from throughout the region on March 2, 2018, at Los Angeles City Hall.
Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem with a long history. It’s also a growing and complex issue, with no easy fix for the estimated 50,000-plus people living on streets of the city and throughout greater L.A. County.
Read the summary report by student participants
Specific goals for the annual event include connecting students with City Hall and county leaders, analyzing an important public and social policy issue, and participating in informed discussion and debate with impacted city staff and civic leaders, according to VC Powe, director of career services and leadership, who has directed the program since its founding.
Hosting the students this year was Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who welcomed the students to City Hall and challenged them to research and come up with creative solutions to the question: What services can be provided today?
More than a dozen Luskin public policy, social welfare and urban planning graduate students worked together in teams to explore and brainstorm possible solutions for the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Each team met with and interviewed a wide range of leaders of city and county organizations and agencies focused on the problem. Interviewees ranged from homeless advocates and leaders of charitable organizations to a law enforcement officer and service providers for the homeless.
The students worked together throughout the day to provide Koretz, who represents the 5th Council District, with insights, ideas and policy solutions gathered from their interviews and discussions with program participants.
“I think students are finding out as they are talking to all these different stakeholders that there are some obstacles,” commented Toby Hur, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare field faculty member, who served as the students’ faculty adviser during the event at City Hall. “Building anything in L.A. is a complex process: It’s slow and with Measure H — the county sales tax increase — the money is just beginning to trickle down — finally,” Hur said.
Just a few of the issues discussed across the School’s three professional programs were zoning and land use, social services, law enforcement, jobs and job readiness, child care, NIMBYism and political will.
“For me, it’s a very personal issue,” said Michelle Viorato, a first-year public policy student from El Monte. “I’m really interested in finding solutions to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness. It’s very frustrating to see.”
Viorato and her teammates, Ashley Mashian, a first-year urban planning student, and Jacob Woocher, a second-year urban planning student, met with Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, president and CEO of L.A. Family Housing; Jessica Duboff, vice president, Center for Business Advocacy, L.A. Chamber; and James Bickhart, a consultant with the office of Councilman Koretz.
“I’m seeing a lot of people who are being evicted — or are one paycheck away — and I want to see what measures we can take as a community at Luskin to work with City Hall trying to prevent homelessness,” said Mashian, who was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Gabriela Solis, a second-year public policy and social welfare student, said her team heard some great ideas during an interview with Gita O’Neill, who serves in a new city post: director of homeless policies and strategies in the office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. One of those ideas was to bring back a homeless court that was cut during the recession, said Solis, a native of East Los Angeles.
“[O’Neill’s] main focus is on legal services, and I think she has a really interesting standpoint. She is the first that the city has hired as a director of policy, something they don’t do historically,” Solis said. Her team also met with Dominic Choi, homeless coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department.
“I think that LAPD gets this villain role,” Solis said. “It was interesting talking about his perspective on things because I think it’s important to have them at the table and involved in how we deal with this.”
After a morning of interviews, the students reconvened with Councilmember Koretz to discuss their findings and policy recommendations.
First-year MPP student Iman Nanji reported on her team’s meeting with Ruth Schwartz, co-founder and executive director of Shelter Partnership.
“We talked about how the pendulum may have swung too far on focusing on permanent supportive housing, and how we also need to focus on transitional short-term solutions to the homelessness problem in addition to the image of homelessness,” said Nanji, who serves on a team in the mayor’s office working on data-driven approaches to combating homelessness. “In [Schwartz’s] opinion, there’s still a lot of work to be done to just get a better idea of who actually is homeless. They’re not a monolith. How do we get a better sense of the diversity in the homeless population?”
Christopher Ayala, a second-year social welfare student, grew up in South Los Angeles and has had experience working with young people experiencing homelessness.
“Sometimes they are overlooked in the policy we are creating,” Ayala said. “So we are really trying to focus on them and see how we can adjust to their unique needs and in comparison to the chronically homeless.”
“Ending homelessness is a little ambitious, but combating homelessness is the right middle ground,” said Sam Blake, an MPP/MBA joint-program student. “On one hand, it can seem trivial, but at the end of the day, words are how we communicate and how we get people on board. So it’s important to pay attention to that.”
As part of Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall, the students will submit to Koretz a written policy memorandum summarizing their findings and policy recommendations.
“UCLA is a huge asset to the community and all of you, its students,” Koretz said as he presented certificates to the students at the conclusion of the day. “So we hope this will help you move toward becoming civic leaders of the future,” he said.
Hur noted that the students’ task is far from over.
“Coming up with solutions is a difficult task, but I think this is a good forum for them to understand the context — the political context, the community aspect and to be able to actually, really, begin to formulate and connect with all these people here,” he said. “The real work begins after today.”
UCLA Luskin Day at Los Angeles City Hall is now in its 14th year and serves to promote and encourage careers in politics and public service, as well as engage UCLA with local government, Powe said. The program is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Office of Community and Government Relations.
Read the transcript of an interview with Koretz conducted by UCLA Advocacy during UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall.
View additional photos from the City Hall visit in a Flickr album:
By Stan Paul
For UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs scholar Paavo Monkkonen, making housing affordable in California starts with a vital building block: the state’s Housing Element framework requiring cities to meet existing and projected local and regional housing needs.
“This system performs an almost symbolic function at present,” said the associate professor of Urban Planning who also earned his Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree from Luskin in 2005. “Cities that do not meet their housing targets face no consequences, and cities that do meet them reap no reward.” Monkkonen delivered a lecture and white paper on the topic Dec. 1 at the UC Center in Sacramento.
Two other areas of focus on this pressing problem for the state are expanding public participation in the planning process and shifting some decision-making from local to state and regional levels, according to Monkkonen. His lecture, “Understanding and Challenging Opposition to Housing Construction in California’s Urban Areas,” was moderated by Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing & Community Development.
“The current planning environment is stacked in favor of better-off individuals and single-family neighborhoods at the expense of renters and multi-family housing,” Monkkonen wrote in an opinion piece published in the Sacramento Bee the same day as the lecture. On the neighborhood level, opposition has continually hindered housing needs. “When interests with time and money block or downsize projects in wealthy neighborhoods, it pushes new development into dense parts of cities and increases rents throughout the area.”
In urging that the state takes steps to “democratize” the planning process, Monkkonen explained that planners need to have input from a more representative group of citizens such as families, low-income renters and young people — groups that may not have ready access to public hearings and planning meetings.
In his white paper, Monkkonen included a section on understanding opposition to housing construction and density. The list shows how opposition focuses on three formal systems — planning, legal and political — as well as informal influences and tactics to “shape what can and cannot get built in California’s cities.”
Monkkonen outlined a number of ways opponents to new housing impede construction through the planning process. These include commenting in public meetings, letter writing, social media, petitions, appeals or filing historic designations for properties or districts.
Legally, projects may face lawsuits to invalidate a permit or policy or be challenged through the California Environmental Quality Act.
Politically, ballot initiatives can be used to place a moratorium on development, and efforts to recall council members may be initiated. Opponents can also lobby for state laws affecting specific city rules, Monkkonen observed.
In his presentation Monkkonen:
- Outlined policy recommendations for land-use reforms concerning housing directed by the state.
- Described how limiting the supply of new housing creates less-affordable housing.
- And pointed out how the issue of housing supply is generally misunderstood.
Monkkonen emphasizes this in the abstract to his white paper: “The debate continues despite robust empirical evidence demonstrating that supply constraints — low density chief among them — are a core cause of increasing housing costs.”
Among his recommendations to the state on how to push back against local constraints on new housing is one favoring “by-right” approval of projects. Projects that comply with current zoning laws may bypass regular approval processes where these processes are a “persistent hindrance to regional housing needs.” Monkkonen cited California’s density bonus law — an example of by-right approval — wherein developers may be incentivized to include affordable units in exchange for an increase in density.
Monkkonen believes that his work may prompt state government action and provide a guide to addressing the affordable housing issue in California.
“I was excited to be able to present this work in conversation with Ben Metcalf,” said Monkkonen, adding that the state’s director of housing and community development was very receptive to his policy recommendations. “He said his department is releasing a state housing plan next week that actually mirrors a lot of my analysis.”
Monkkonen’s white paper is available online.
For more information on California’s Housing Element Law, please visit the California Department of Housing and Community Development web page.
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