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2017 Gilliam Winners Tackle Issues of Inequality Recipients tell how the Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. Social Justice Award will benefit and create opportunities for their research projects

By Yasaman Boromand

The 33 recipients for the second Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. Social Justice Award have been announced. Classified in 10 projects of various topics, these scholars’ outstanding research, some done singly and some in teams, reflect the legacy of UCLA Luskin’s dean emeritus.

The program supports student research and community projects with a racial equity focus. The goals are to encourage students to analyze how racial equity intersects with other complex policy issues, to work with community-based organizations and real world clients, and to show that the School and the faculty intellectually value research and community projects that focus on race.

The program is infused with probing analysis of the roots and branches of inequality, at home and abroad, and the students embrace their roles as agents of positive change.

The winning project by Gus Wendel, a second-year master of urban planning student, sheds light on the issue surrounding LGBTQ individuals’ feelings of comfort about being themselves in public. Wendel employs an intersectional approach to examine the various physical and social characteristics of public spaces, as well as participants’ other characteristics including race, age and class.

“There has been a lack of discussion around this issue, specifically LGBTQ issues, in urban planning,” Wendel said.

Wendel’s interest began from thinking about displays of public affection, how those displays are masked and under what circumstances.

“Having to navigate those feelings in public spaces, even in more progressive cities that are considered LGBTQ friendly, is an issue for planners who seek to create a more inclusive public realm,” Wendel said.

Part of Wendel’s research is participatory ethnography in which participants, using either a disposable camera, a video or another kind of documentation method of their choice, will get to go out and actually document the everyday spaces they come across.

“The award is providing really important assistance in terms of being able to fund those certain aspects of the work. It also helps with travel costs to go to different locations around the city to conduct interviews. I’m truly grateful for the support the award provides,” he said.

The project by C. Aujean Lee, a doctoral candidate in urban planning, seeks to understand how racial/ethnic place-making and neighborhood resources affect home buying behaviors and broader urban spatial patterns of inequality and intergenerational wealth. Through semi-structured interviews, Lee examines homeowners who live in white and ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

“I am interested in learning more about neighborhood segregation and racial/ethnic place-making as they simultaneously provide ethnic-based resources and may affect intergenerational wealth for several reasons,” Lee said.

Through personal experience and work with several immigrant-serving non-profits, Lee understands the significance these neighborhood and ethnic-based resources can have to improve housing outcomes and asset-building opportunities.

“At the same time, much of the scholarship on ethnic neighborhoods emphasizes how ethnic neighborhoods are associated with lower home values,” Lee said. “I am balancing these perspectives with my dissertation by focusing on middle- and upper-class Latino and Asian segregation patterns.”

“I appreciate that the Luskin School has this award. As academics in applied fields, our research should serve as a bridge between informing the larger public about issues in our cities and work to enhance the well-being and lives of its residents and promote the overall socioeconomic health of everyone,” she said.

Lucero Ramos, another master’s student in urban planning, examines the equity of educational services among youth living in affordable housing. The purpose of Ramos’ research is to investigate how supportive services serve as an educational tool among marginalized youth, ages 13 to 17, and promote educational equity.

“Growing up, I would see my parents work long hours and come home late after a hard day from work,” Ramos said. “Today, they each continue to work long hours and rent continues to increase faster than wages. I know many families struggle on a daily basis to pay off rent. The stress falls heavily on low-income families, veterans, homeless people, etc.”

Having worked as a site leader in the past, Ramos believes that housing is imperative for the well-being of a child’s developmental and social growth.

“When I connected with Jamboree, an affordable housing developer in Irvine and my client for my capstone, I knew I wanted to work on a project that intersected my narrative and my experience in the field,” Ramos said.

Ramos’ research complements existing affordable studies on how housing may alleviate economic obstacles.

“I wasn’t sure what this looked like until I started reading more on topics of after-school programs in affordable housing sites,” she said.

Studying an issue of a similar nature, the winning group project by four master’s students in public policy, Ahmed Ali Bob, Cameron Burch, Karen Law and Susan Y. Oh, evaluates the current policies of rent control and their effectiveness, and what is known as just-cause eviction in protecting the vulnerable communities in South Los Angeles.

“As is evident in the news headlines locally, we know that there is a serious lack of housing that is affordable for the average renter. Rent burdens are at an all-time high as well,” Law said. “These factors in conjunction with development pressures have put pressures on communities that are more vulnerable to being displaced,” she added.

With a new approach to gentrification and the possible displacement it causes, the project focuses on vulnerable groups such as low-income, minority renters who are at risk of being displaced and unable to afford the increasing price of rent driven by market demand.

“We look at the Rent Stabilization Ordinance that is in place in L.A., L.A.’s version of rent control, to see if it’s benefiting low-income renters either by keeping rents low, giving them more protections from unjust evictions,” Law said.

“The award has helped us with funding the transcription of our qualitative stakeholder interviews with various tenant advocacy groups, city officials and real estate professionals,” Law said. “It also helped us purchase a software extension for Excel that enables us to geocode addresses for rental units allowing us to map the data too,” she said.

“I personally think that the award has provided yet another simulation of a real-world experience we can all expect in our near futures. We are grateful for the support and the opportunity to have applied,” Law added.

According to Luskin’s description of the fellowship program, “the faculty review committee considers the intellectual/academic rigor of the project, the community impact and strength of the partnership, and how the project addresses racial equity.”

The other recipients are Delara Aharpour, Kasee Houston, Diego De La Peza, Eve Bachrach, Estefania Zavala, Kelsey Chestnut, J.C. De Vera, Jessica Noel, Sam Blake, Emma Huang, Barbara Spyrou, David Ou, Natasha Oliver, Takashi Omoto, Gina Charusombat, all master’s students in public policy; Xochitl Ortiz, Jacklyn Oh, Ryan Shum, Amman Desai, Julia Heidelman, Carolyn Vera, all master’s students in urban planning; Miya Chang and Matthew Mizel, doctoral candidates in social welfare; Lawrence C. Lan, a doctoral candidate at UCR. Recipient Antoinette Bedros is a joint MPP/law student.

The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles Luskin researchers among co-authors in new study revealing nuanced story of race and wealth in L.A.

By Melany De La Cruz-Viesca and Erin Fogg

A new report examining wealth inequality across racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles shows substantial disparity with Japanese, Asian Indians, Chinese and whites ranking among the top, while blacks, Mexicans, other Latinos, Koreans and Vietnamese rank far behind.

The Color of Wealth in Los Angeles” is the first report to compile detailed data on assets and debts among people of different races, ethnicities and countries of origin residing in the Los Angeles area. Researchers from UCLA, Duke University and The New School, with support from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, analyzed data on assets and debts. Assets included savings and checking accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, houses and vehicles, while debts, included credit card debt, student loans, medical debt, mortgages and vehicle debt.

Three of the co-authors of the report have ties to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Melany De La Cruz-Viesca, the lead author of the report, is a 2002 graduate of the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning, and is assistant director of the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA. Other co-authors include Paul Ong, professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Asian American studies; and Zhenxiang Chen, a Public Policy graduate student. Also contributing were C. Aujean Lee, a doctoral student in Urban Planning, and Chhandara Pech, a MURP alum and currently a staff member at UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

“Data that truly reflect the diverse and emerging patterns of wealth inequality across specific ethnic and racial groups has been hard to come by,” said William “Sandy” Darity, co-author and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke. “The patterns we were able to document may well be the first in-depth study of wealth, ethnicity and race in Los Angeles, especially for Mexicans and particular Asian national origin groups.”

Although much of the inequality discourse has focused on income, wealth is a better indicator of economic well-being and metric for understanding economic inequality. The accumulation of wealth is more likely to ensure financial security and opportunity for American families in the future, the authors said.

The report provides estimates for U.S.-born blacks, blacks who are recent immigrants from Africa, Mexicans, other Latinos, Asian Indians, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and non-Hispanic whites in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (Los Angeles and Orange counties) using new data from the National Asset Scorecard and Communities of Color survey.

Racial and ethnic differences in wealth show the extreme vulnerability of some nonwhite households in Los Angeles. The authors estimate that the typical U.S.-born black or Mexican family, for example, has just 1 percent of the wealth of a typical white family in Los Angeles — or one cent for every dollar of wealth held by the average white family in the metro area. Koreans hold 7 cents and Vietnamese possess 17 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by comparable white families.

The median value of liquid assets — those assets that quickly can be converted to cash — for Mexicans and other Latinos is striking, zero dollars and only $7, respectively, while the median value of liquid assets for white households is $110,000. This not only implies financial hardship in the long term, but it also makes families particularly vulnerable to short-term financial disruption, the report states.

White households in Los Angeles have an estimated median net worth of $355,000. By comparison, Mexicans and U.S.-born blacks are estimated to have a median net worth of $3,500 and $4,000, respectively.

Additionally, among nonwhite groups, Japanese ($592,000), Asian Indian ($460,000), Chinese ($408,200) and Filipino ($243,000) households had estimated median wealth values far in excess of blacks who recently emigrated from Africa ($72,000), other Latinos ($42,500), Koreans ($23,400) and Vietnamese ($61,500).

“The socioeconomic status of immigrants prior to entering the U.S. plays an important role in influencing the wealth position of particular groups,” said De La Cruz-Viesca. “This report not only reveals a nuanced story of racial wealth differences in L.A., perhaps more importantly, it also explores the local nature of asset markets and what factors influence the wealth status of communities of color.”

The majority of immigrants who came to the United States after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act are highly educated, possess higher levels of wealth than the average American, and are highly skilled professionals who are more likely to hold jobs that pay more. One exception is Vietnamese immigrants, many of whom came to the United States as refugees generally with limited financial resources. The National Asset Scorecard and Communities of Color survey findings are consistent with this general pattern.

The NASCC survey findings reveal staggering disparities that should serve to urge lawmakers to identify and pursue policies that can help narrow racial wealth differences, the authors said. In particular, there’s a need to develop policies that address structural discrimination in asset and credit markets and the inherited inequalities associated with vast differences in parental wealth.

“The wealth disparities uncovered in this report are enormous, likewise it will take bold initiatives to address them,” said co-author Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy and director of the Ph.D. program in policy at The New School. “‘Baby Bonds’ provide an example of a bold policy proposal that addresses the racial wealth gap, which locks in inequality at birth.”

Hamilton said that these government-provided trusts would take into account a person’s family wealth at birth. “The accounts would be used to seed a down payment on an asset like a home or a new business, so that everyone would have an opportunity to attain the economic security and wealth building mechanism of an asset that will appreciate over their lifetime.”