UCLA Model Identifies Neighborhoods Still at Risk as L.A. Reopens

A UCLA team has developed a predictive model that pinpoints which populations in which neighborhoods of Los Angeles County are most at risk from COVID-19 and, by extension, which should be prioritized for vaccines. The research – COVID-19 Medical Vulnerability Indicators: A Predictive, Local Data Model for Equity in Public Health Decision Making – is published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Health. With more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County has a larger population than 41 U.S. states. While many have been vaccinated, others in neighborhoods and communities at high risk of COVID-19 must be reached to fully re-open Los Angeles County, the authors said. The model maps the county neighborhood by neighborhood, based on four indicators known to increase an individual’s vulnerability to COVID-19 infection: preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges that create vulnerabilities. The research data demonstrate that neighborhoods characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and unmet social needs are still most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, specifically areas in and around South Los Angeles and the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley. Communities along the coast and in the northwestern part of the county, which have more white and higher-income residents, were found to be the least vulnerable. The study was co-authored by Professor Paul Ong, Chhandara Pech and Nataly Rios Gutierrez of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin and Vicky Mays, a professor with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and UCLA College.


Storper on the Counterintuitive Truth About Global Investment

Urban Planning Distinguished Professor Michael Storper co-authored an article about the impact of international investment on domestic employment levels for the London School of Economics’ Global Investments and Local Development blog. “The world over, public policies for recovery from COVID-19 have cherished the idea of curbing foreign activities of domestic firms in order to boost domestic employment and wages. This represents a fundamental misconception about outward foreign direct investment,” Storper wrote with scholars Riccardo Crescenzi and Roberto Ganau. The authors conducted an in-depth analysis of U.S. local labor markets, detailed in a paper recently published in the Journal of Economic Geography. They found that firms with direct investment in other countries create jobs at home, a counterintuitive fact in an era of populism and calls for curbing global economic integration. The authors noted, however, that there is a downside in the form of increasing intra-regional inequalities between high-skilled and low-skilled workers.

Roy on Failed Promise of Project Roomkey

Ananya Roy, executive director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke with KNX1070 about Project Roomkey, a program designed to provide temporary shelter in hotels and motels to Los Angeles’ homeless population. Critics of the program, launched in Los Angeles at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, cited draconian conditions, including early curfews, a lack of privacy and harassment by staff. To demand changes at Project Roomkey sites, as well as shelters across the region, several members of the unhoused community have organized under the banner United Tenants Against Carceral Housing. Roy said she was once an advocate of Project Roomkey but has become more critical after seeing the program in action. Elected officials are wasting public resources on a “shelter shuffle” and have “turned temporary housing like Project Roomkey into the most dehumanizing, prison-like housing,” Roy said. “People are not better off and they’re clearly not more safe.”

Manville on Improving Communities by Pricing Roads

Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville spoke to Innovation Hub about the dim chances that traffic congestion will improve post-pandemic. Empty roads invite more drivers to use them, he said. And even if more employees work from home, they’ll still use the roadways to satisfy the craving for human connection after a year of quarantine. Offering a one-sentence summary of congestion — “because we’re all in a hurry, we all slow each other down” — Manville argued that the best strategy for managing traffic is charging drivers to use the roads, just as governments charge for utilities. Higher prices during peak traffic hours would help keep traffic moving at a consistent speed, and revenue could be used to keep the system equitable for people who must drive but cannot afford the fees. Manville also noted that reducing congestion would benefit the often low-income neighborhoods that line highways, which are currently inundated with pollutants from nearby traffic.

Roy on the Roots of L.A.’s Housing ‘Disaster’

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, appeared in an Al Jazeera English documentary about Los Angeles’ crisis levels of housing insecurity, which grew starker during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With stay-at-home orders came a public realization about who could stay at home,” Roy said. “And I think one of the things that’s become very evident in the United States is the failure at all scales of government to protect communities and households that are vulnerable.” The film follows homeless families who take great risks by moving into vacant houses and highlights the work of advocacy groups including the Reclaimers, Moms 4 Housing and the Los Angeles Community Action Network. A fast-growing rent-wage gap has deepened the crisis, Roy said. “Housing has become a commodity, by which I mean that what matters is not whether people are housed or not. What matters is the profits to be made on housing that is traded in the marketplace.” 

Yaroslavsky on COVID-19’s Stark Lines of Inequity

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Spectrum News’ “Inside the Issues” about this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index, which offered a deep dive into the impacts of COVID-19 on Los Angeles County’s residents. “There are two Los Angeleses,” Yaroslavsky said. “There are the people who are doing well, who are making it. … And then there are those who are struggling, who are living on the margins of the economy and are always feeling one step away from oblivion.” The index included the surprising finding that Latino residents were more positive about their overall quality of life than white residents. Yaroslavsky said this may be because white people on average had higher incomes and more to lose during this pandemic, despite their greater privilege overall. Latinos faced tough challenges but “they worked their way through it, and they are much more optimistic about getting ahead in Los Angeles,” he said.

Ong Featured in APA Tribute to Groundbreaking Urbanists

Paul Ong

The American Planning Association (APA) featured the work of UCLA Luskin Research Professor Paul Ong in a tribute to Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders who have shaped the nation’s history and communities. Ong, director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, was one of 12 planners, architects, historians and community organizers who have “influenced our built environment, fought for historical and cultural preservation, and championed social justice to help make great communities for all,” the association’s Planning magazine said. Ong joins a list including modernist architect I.M. Pei, statesman Norman Mineta, Vietnam Wall designer Maya Lin and racial justice attorney Manjusha Kulkarni, who co-founded the hate crime reporting center Stop AAPI Hate. As a UCLA researcher and educator, Ong has specialized in urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies, with a focus on labor, environmental justice and immigration. Over the past year, Ong has examined the direct and indirect impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on people and communities as part of the COVID-19 Equity Research Initiative at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. The initiative focuses on systemic racial and class inequalities with the goal of developing insights that will lead to a just and fair recovery. The APA said its list of honorees, compiled in consultation with Asian American Studies scholars, is “intended to shine a spotlight on the many ways that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have built careers in service of their communities, especially in the face of adversity.”

Astor on Protecting Children as They Return to Classroom

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to K-12 Dive about concerns surrounding the safety and well-being of students as they return to the classroom following a year of living through COVID-19. In addition to pandemic-related stressors, students have witnessed enormous racial and political upheaval, creating “a swirl of different variables that make me really worried,” Astor said. “Kids are coming in with suitcases of really horrible experiences.” Bracing for an increase in threats of violence and self-harm, many school administrators have prioritized physical and mental health rather than nosediving into academic recovery. Astor called on principals to create a welcoming place for students and a supportive environment for teachers. “At least for this year, the next year and the year after, our school is not only about academic achievement,” he said. “We are going to go out of our way to [build] social-emotional friendships, so that our school becomes the ideal of what we hope society to be.” 

Yaroslavsky Urges Action to Uplift the Most Vulnerable

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KPCC’s AirTalk about findings from the 2021 UCLA Quality of Life Index. The annual survey of Los Angeles County residents showed that 40% suffered a drop in income over the last year as the region was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Those are the people who are pessimistic, those are the people who are threatened with losing their apartments because they can’t make their rent payment at the end of the month,” said Yaroslavsky, who called on policymakers to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable. As one example, he noted that office space vacated as businesses downsize after the pandemic is “going to have huge implications for land use.” He asked, “What do you do with that empty office space? Can you repurpose it for housing, for example?” Several media outlets covered the Quality of Life Index, including the Los Angeles Times, KABC7 News and RealClear Politics.