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Reber Calls for Federal Funding to Support Reopening Schools

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored an opinion piece in the Hill urging Congress to quickly pass a major funding package to enable schools to resume in-person instruction. As fall approaches, many health experts are calling for schools to reopen to support student learning and mental health and allow parents to return to work. With decreased funding from state tax revenue, school districts must rely on federal funding to cover the costs of new technology and infrastructure to ensure teacher and student health and safety. Reber and co-author Nora Gordon of Georgetown University recommended a relief plan that distributes funds to states based on their levels of child poverty and child population. “To avoid the dangers of social isolation for the well-being of children, schools need another federal relief package that is big enough, flexible enough and soon enough to allow them to open this fall,” they wrote.


Reber Recommends Allocating More School Aid to Higher-Poverty States

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article arguing for a more equitable way to allocate federal COVID-19 aid to schools. The authors described shortcomings in the federal government’s Title I formula used to support children in low-income households. Instead, they recommended “designing a new formula that sends more money per pupil to states with higher child-poverty rates.” Their proposal, described in an Education Week  report, would distribute aid using a weighted formula with two factors: the total number of school-age children and the number of poor school-age children in each state. “Despite the greater resource needs of poor students, per-pupil school spending is already lower in states with higher child poverty rates,” wrote Reber and co-author Nora Gordon of Georgetown University. “All states are affected by the current crisis, and the federal government needs to invest in all students. But higher-poverty states have less capacity to withstand these circumstances and need more federal support.”


Yaroslavsky Sees Tectonic Shift in Los Angeles History

In a Los Angeles Times article, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky weighed in on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to redistribute funding from police to communities. After decades of efforts to expand the Los Angeles Police Department with the aim of making the city safer, the news proposal would direct $250 million from other city operations to youth jobs, health initiatives and “peace centers” to heal trauma, with as much as $150 million coming from the LAPD. The proposal comes in response to widespread demands that the government provide poor and minority communities with more than a police presence following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “If you look at the arc of the city’s history for three decades, there is a tectonic shift here with this growing constituency for reform,” Yaroslavsky said. “There is the emergence of this multiracial coalition of people, who have formed a powerful constituency, and they are making their voices heard.”


Akee on Need for Federal Funding to Support Tribes

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee was featured on Indian Country Today discussing the need for federal funding to support Native American economies. Akee co-authored a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin along with a report about the need for CARES Act funding to support tribes during the pandemic. While Congress has allocated $8 billion in relief aid, about half of it was tied up in litigation because of the use of the word “tribe.” Akee also noted that “having to spend the money by the end of the actual year 2020 and document all of those expenses in a way that is only tied to COVID-19 seems like a bit of an extra burden for tribal governments that are already strained.”


Reber Advocates for Increased Federal Aid for Schools

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber co-authored a Brookings article about the need for federal funding to support students and promote economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts are facing new costs associated with distance learning just as state and local governments are facing major budget shortfalls. The federal government, which now contributes less than 10% of total elementary and secondary education budgets, has an advantage over states in its ability to borrow freely, the authors explained. The CARES Act took the first step in allocating emergency funds to schools but was still much less than aid packages for schools during the Great Recession, wrote Reber, a Brookings fellow. Laying out how the federal government might structure new funding, the authors wrote, “Congress should design the next relief package, and more to follow, with two goals in mind: protecting children from the harmful effects of deep cuts and promoting economic recovery.”


Shah on Improving Sanitation in Rural Indonesia

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox Dev video discussing a community health and sanitation project across 160 villages in East Java, Indonesia. “Poor sanitation and hygiene are leading causes of high mortality rates among children under 5 in developing countries,” said Shah, director of the Global Lab for Research in Action at UCLA Luskin. The project aimed to improve health and sanitation practices by promoting the construction of latrines in rural villages. However, it did not provide financial assistance to the communities, limiting the impact on children’s health, Shah said. “If we’re serious about getting some of these poorer households to build toilets, coupling the demand-side intervention with things like subsidies or financial incentives could get us to much higher rates of latrine construction” and improve the general health of individuals in rural communities, she said.


Residents in L.A.’s Latino Neighborhoods Less Likely to Receive Relief Funds Researchers from UCLA Luskin combine forces to recommend that local leaders fill gaps in COVID-19 stimulus funding

By Eliza Moreno

Fifty-six percent of Latino-majority neighborhoods in Los Angeles County have a high proportion of residents at high risk for not receiving individual relief funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, according to a UCLA report.

The paper was written by researchers from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge.

Its findings provide information that local and state officials can use to target resources and communications efforts in neighborhoods that are experiencing widespread economic distress. The CARES Act was passed by Congress in response to the economic disruptions associated with COVID-19; the measure includes payments to cover citizens’ basic needs.

“The global pandemic has put a spotlight on the cracks in our social safety net that often fail to catch those living in poverty, which disproportionately are people of color and immigrants,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a co-author of the report. “Entire neighborhoods will face economic uncertainty, and a public health crisis is not the time to ignore their needs. We are only as healthy as our most vulnerable, and many communities in Los Angeles County will need targeted assistance.”

The Los Angeles neighborhoods where residents are least likely to receive a stimulus check are concentrated in downtown Los Angeles, including Westlake/MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Chinatown, Skid Row and Pico Union.

Those most at risk for not receiving relief funding tend to be lower income, people of color, and live primarily in renter neighborhoods. Immigrants also have an elevated risk, according to the report.

“The lack of support puts entire communities at risk here in Los Angeles County and requires immediate attention,” said Paul Ong, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which is housed in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Ong also is the founder of Ong & Associates, an economic and policy analysis consulting firm specializing in public interest issues, which provided services pro bono for the study.

The report recommends that state and local governments in the affected neighborhoods provide targeted support, including cash assistance and other social benefits, regardless of recipients’ citizenship status.

The report is the second analysis by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on underserved neighborhoods. A report published on April 1 examined economic vulnerability due to retail and service sector closures across Los Angeles County neighborhoods.

Astor Urges Schools to Recognize Military Culture

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to Education Dive about the importance of recognizing military culture in schools and supporting military children. If former Vice President Joe Biden is elected president in November, his wife, Jill Biden, would have a national platform to pursue her work on behalf of children from military families. Astor’s research has found that children of active-duty service members were more likely than non-military-connected peers to carry weapons to school, to drink alcohol or use other substances, and to be the victims of bullying. After working with Jill Biden on a federally funded program to improve school climate and mental health services in military-connected schools, Astor said she understood “the experiences of military kids going from place to place and worrying about their parents.” He said schools should recognize military culture to make children feel more connected and to educate their civilian peers on the contributions of the military.


Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

Shell Family Endowment Supports Public Affairs Undergraduates

Laura Shell, a member of the UCLA Luskin board of advisors, and her husband, Jeff, have established an endowed scholarship to support students in the Luskin School’s new undergraduate program. The UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match Initiative, which matches gifts for such scholarships at 50 percent, will establish the Shell Family Centennial Scholarship Matching Fund. The funds will support scholarships for students who have declared the new Public Affairs major and have demonstrated financial need. The first recipients of the scholarship will be announced in 2020. “We want to make the excellent college education provided by the UCLA Luskin School possible for students without the worry of tuition,” Laura Shell said. “We are thrilled our contribution will support the education of future leaders in our community, who will undoubtedly work in public service after graduation.” Shell, who earned a B.A. in political science from UCLA and a master’s in public administration from USC, has maintained a 25-year career working in local government and with environmental organizations. The Shells’ gift is part of a network of support inspired by the launch of the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program. In June 2018, Richard Lieboff endowed the Gene Dudley Centennial Scholars Undergraduate Scholarship in memory of Llewellyn Eugene “Gene” Dudley. That gift was also matched by the UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match Initiative.

 

 

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